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4.3: The Caral Civilization

  • Page ID
    72237
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    Learning Objective

    • Describe the significance of the Caral civilization of the Andes

    Key Points

    • The Caral civilization (also known as Caral-Supe) was part of the Norte Chico civilization complex, in what is now the Norte Chico region of north-central coastal Peru.
    • The urban complex of Caral takes up more than 150 acres, and contains plazas, dwellings, and a 28-meters-high temple.
    • Some scholars have suggested that Norte Chico was founded on seafood and maritime resources, rather than development of agricultural cereal and crop surpluses.
    • One of the artifacts found at Caral is a knotted textile piece, called a quipu, which archaeologists believe was a method of keeping records.
    • Evidence of warfare has not been found in Caral.
    • A geoglyph of a human with long hair and open mouth was discovered in 2000 by Marco Machacuay and Rocio Aramburu just west of Caral.
    • At its peak, approximately 3,000 people are believed to have lived in Caral.
    • Norte Chico civilizations are pre-ceramic cultures of the pre-Columbian Late Archaic; they completely lacked ceramics, and apparently had almost no art. The most impressive achievement of these civilizations was its monumental architecture.

    Terms

    Caral civilization

    A complex pre-Columbian society that included as many as 30 major population centers, in what is now the Norte Chico region of north-central coastal Peru.

    geoglyph

    A large design produced on the ground, typically formed by rocks, stones, trees, gravel, or earth.

    quipu

    A knotted textile piece found at the Caral site, believed to be used for record-keeping.

    The Caral civilization (also known as the Norte Chico civilization and as Caral-Supe) was a complex pre-Columbian society, located  in what is now the Norte Chico region of north-central coastal Peru, near Supe, Barranca province, Peru (200 km north of Lima). Its location allowed it to take advantage of three rivers: the Fortaleza, the Pativilca, and the Supe. It has been established as the oldest known civilization in the Americas, and as one of the six sites where civilization separately originated in the ancient world.

    The Caral flourished between the 30th and 18th centuries BCE. This complex society arose a millennium after Sumer in Mesopotamia, was contemporaneous with the Egyptian pyramids, and predated the Mesoamerican Olmec by nearly two millennia.

    image
    Caral. The remains of the Caral site in Peru

    Caral was discovered by Paul Kosok in 1948, and further studied by archaeologist Ruth Shady. The urban complex of Caral takes up more than 150 acres, and holds plazas, dwellings, and a 28-meters-high temple. Its urban plan was used by Andean civilizations for the next four thousand years. One of the artifacts found at Caral is a knotted textile piece named a quipu, which archaeologists believe was a method of keeping records. Other pieces found include flutes made of condor and pelican bones, and cornetts made of deer and llama bones. Evidence of warfare has not been found. A geoglyph was discovered in 2000 by Marco Machacuay and Rocio Aramburu just west of Caral. The lines of the etching form a human face with long hair and an open mouth. At its peak, approximately 3,000 people are believed to have lived in Caral.

    image
    Caral Temple. A view of the Caral temple

    The Norte-Chico Region

    In archaeological nomenclature, Norte Chico civilizations are pre-ceramic cultures of the pre-Columbian Late Archaic; they completely lacked ceramics and apparently had almost no art. The most impressive achievement of these civilizations was its monumental architecture, including large earthwork platform mounds and sunken circular plazas. Archaeological evidence suggests use of textile technology and, possibly, the worship of common god symbols, both of which recur in pre-Columbian Andean cultures. Sophisticated government is assumed to have been required to manage the ancient Norte Chico. Questions remain over its organization, particularly the political influence of food resources. Some scholars have suggested that Norte Chico was founded on seafood and maritime resources, as opposed to the development of agricultural cereal and crop surpluses, which have been considered essential to the rise of other ancient civilizations.

    Sources

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