Oldest City in the Americas Is 5,000-Year-Old Ruins With Pyramids in Peru—Existed in Egyptian Age

Oldest City in the Americas Is 5,000-Year-Old Ruins With Pyramids in Peru—Existed in Egyptian Age
The sacred city of Caral in Peru existed when the Egyptian pyramids were being built. (Illustration by The Epoch Times, Håkan Svensson Xauxa/CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED, Shutterstock)
Michael Wing
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A few miles up a desert valley road from the roaring Peruvian coastline and irrigated fields north of Lima, there once was a stone city with pyramids. Their dust-blown outlines and stepped bases are still seen, their roofs long weathered away.

The peoples who lived, celebrated, made music, and worshipped here—when the pyramids of Egypt were being built—are today long forgotten.

Now, as these 5,000-year-old ruins are declared a protected heritage site, the sacred city of Caral lives on in the imaginations of modern archeologists and voyeurs exploring the world from their phones. Marvels such as ancient wind instruments and anti-earthquake building methods still stir wonder—what did this ancient civilization achieve?

Caral is believed to be the oldest city in the Americas. The thriving metropolis sprawled across hundreds of hectares in the Supe River Valley with over 3,000 inhabitants as early as 3000 B.C., until its abandonment around 1800 B.C. Including the nearby Supe Valley settlements, there may have been 20,000 people inhabiting the area.

Absent in the designs found here are any symbols of war or arms, such as spears, telling researchers this culture was predominantly peaceful. So do the city’s nonexistent fortifications.

But there were finds of a higher aspiration.

Caral lacks evidence of defensive fortifications, suggesting that it may have been a peaceful society. (Beto Santillan/Shutterstock)
Caral lacks evidence of defensive fortifications, suggesting that it may have been a peaceful society. (Beto Santillan/Shutterstock)
Visitors stand amid the ruins of Caral. (Beto Santillan/Shutterstock)
Visitors stand amid the ruins of Caral. (Beto Santillan/Shutterstock)

Among the ruins, the remains of ceremonial and administrative buildings tell of religious purpose. Most notable are the elaborate complex of temple pyramids and the circular amphitheater. The urban design of Caral appears to be the model for Andean civilizations in the Americas across four thousand years.

This urban planning also shows a tiered class system with upper and lower areas. The former was filled by religious officials and wealthy elites living in larger abodes, built higher in the valley around the six pyramids. A lower class of laborers dwelt in smaller structures with single rooms serving more than one purpose. The Supe River served as a dividing line between the classes.

Traces of food found at the site bespeak of this class division, including sea lion bones exclusive to the upper parts and mostly plant-based foods with some fish found in the lower. Caral was closely related to the nearby fishing city Áspero, making seafood a large part of the diet.

An aerial view of a pyramid in Caral. (Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)
An aerial view of a pyramid in Caral. (Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)
The sacred city of Caral is located in the Supe Valley, near the current town of Caral, north of Lima, Peru. (Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)
The sacred city of Caral is located in the Supe Valley, near the current town of Caral, north of Lima, Peru. (Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)
An aerial view of the round amphitheater at Caral. (Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)
An aerial view of the round amphitheater at Caral. (Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)
Crumbled foundations in the ancient city of Caral. (Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)
Crumbled foundations in the ancient city of Caral. (Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)

Caral is among the largest cities of the Norte Chico civilization with culture and technology reflecting its prowess. The stones used for the greatest of its pyramids, Pyramid Mayor, were cut evenly, the largest weighing over 1,000 pounds. In this seismic region, Mayor stands 65 feet high. It is believed that woven nets of plant fiber laid between the stones acted as shock absorbers during quakes.

Could Caral have had anti-seismic building methods thousands of years ago?

Viewed from an airplane or drone, geoglyphs may be seen marking the landscape across Caral. Such mysterious lines of rocks form pictures when viewed from the air and are known to exist among the Nazca Lines of southern Peru, forming various animal patterns. But those marking the Supe Valley at Cara form human faces with long, streaming hair and gaping mouths.

A terraced pyramid at Caral, with exposed stone fill. (<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PeruCaral15.jpg">Håkan Svensson Xauxa</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED</a>)
A terraced pyramid at Caral, with exposed stone fill. (Håkan Svensson Xauxa/CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED)
A terraced platform among the ruins (<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PeruCaral24.jpg">Håkan Svensson Xauxa</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>); (Inset) The remains of cloth sacks used to haul stone building materials onsite. (<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PeruCaral22.jpg">Håkan Svensson Xauxa</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>)
A terraced platform among the ruins (Håkan Svensson Xauxa/CC BY-SA 3.0); (Inset) The remains of cloth sacks used to haul stone building materials onsite. (Håkan Svensson Xauxa/CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Left) Peruvian archeologist Ruth Shady (<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ruth_Shady_en_Caral_2014.JPG">Ruth Madelen Luna Cruz</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>); (Right) Visitors at Caral. (David Huamani Bedoya/Shutterstock)
(Left) Peruvian archeologist Ruth Shady (Ruth Madelen Luna Cruz/CC BY-SA 4.0); (Right) Visitors at Caral. (David Huamani Bedoya/Shutterstock)
The remains of two of Caral's large pyramids in the Supe Valley. (<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PeruCaral01.jpg">Håkan Svensson Xauxa</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED</a>)
The remains of two of Caral's large pyramids in the Supe Valley. (Håkan Svensson Xauxa/CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED)
An aerial view of the amphitheater at Caral. (Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)
An aerial view of the amphitheater at Caral. (Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock)

Other technologies were found at Caral. Dozens of pelican and condor bone flutes of unusual construction were unearthed as well as cornetts made of deer and llama bones. History was recorded through a system of knots, called “quipus,” tied in textiles at the height of the Inca Empire. Radiocarbon dating has found artifacts at Caral over 4,500 years old.

Caral was discovered by Paul Kosok in 1948, though it garnered little attention until 1975 when Carlos Williams surveyed its structures in detail, and again decades later when Ruth Shady probed deeper into its mysteries.

After the ancient city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009, Caral became the center of tension between locals who claimed land rights over the territory and researching archeologists. A key to the secrets of a civilization for one, a place to live and make a home for another, Caral’s dust-blown stones will continue to stand through time.

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