As the great Egyptian pyramids were rising on the sun-baked banks of the Nile River, there were other pyramids across the Atlantic that were already in existence. That’s according to some of the recent archaeological findings that should upend everything we’ve known about the prominent civilizations of the Old World. This monumental finding is primarily the work of Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady Solís. There is now almost complete scientific consensus that Caral-Supe, on the north-central coast of Peru, is the site of a once-thriving civilization that was the oldest in the Americas, and one of the oldest in the world. But like many discoveries, it was slow in coming and marked by controversies and disbelief.
Caral is not by any chance a recent discovery. In 1905, Max Uhle, a Dresden-born German archaeologist made extensive archaeological research efforts on the Supe Valley but somehow missed Caral. The ruins deceptively appeared like natural hills. Where an archaeologist floundered, a historian would eventually succeed—and that, after over four decades. In 1948 Paul Kosok, a professor of History at the Long Island University in Brooklyn made a discovery of the Caral-Supe, and this time got a captivated global audience.
Ruth Shady’s Archeological Discovery Of Caral-Supe
The revelation of the ruins, containing a vast, complex network of pyramids, temples, and amphitheaters, was met with surprise and awe. However, Paul Kosok’s discovery would fizzle and fade as critics asserted that he had failed to produce any Andean artifacts.
A dark-haired woman with a dignified bearing, and annoyingly tenacious, Ruth Shady would later enter the scene. As a young, curious child, her father would frequently take her to marvel at ancient ruins. Fascinating History books were a part of her reading staple. Naturally, the love for history and archaeology caught on. In school, she would join the archaeology club and later, in 1964, enroll for both archaeology and anthropology degrees at university. After completing her Ph.D., she would become a professor at the University of San Marcos, Peru.
Ruth Shady first visited the area in 1978 as part of an investigation team on a different project. It’s at this time that her attention was called to the Caral area and, in her characteristic tenacity, made a mental note to one day explore it. The opportunity would eventually knock in 1994. When she started digging, the whole place looked boringly dull, dry, and desolate. Then she started finding structures. In her eyes, the structures looked distinctly designed and not some disorderly heaps haphazardly dumped by mother nature. She would clearly see the layout of pyramids when others only saw mounds and hills. Later, the pyramid complexes, the elaborate staircases, and circular plazas; the flutes and cornets; a prototype of a writing system called quipu, all went on to confirm her suspicion. She had stumbled on a massive archaeological treasure trove.
But there were troubling mysteries that provided fodder for critics. The prevailing consensus at the time was that cities were formed as a spatial reaction to war. It was believed that people formed cities to protect themselves from the effects of war or the threat of war. Yet Caral revealed not one spear, arrow, or shield. There was not a single implement of war. Then secondly, there were no ceramics; no sign of any pot-firing or earth-heating technology. Ruth Shady scratched her head, trying to resolve this perplexing puzzle. How could such obviously intelligent people be ignorant of ceramics technology? These two mysteries would later prove to be the defining features of Caral-Supe and shake some settled archaeological theories.
Human beings, after all, have not just been building cities to protect themselves from the threat of war. Instead, as the discovery and study of Caral-Supe show, human beings have an innate desire for things great and grand and can thrive—even in moments of peace and tranquillity. There’s something in our current architectural landscape that confirms our innate desire for the beautiful and grand. The Taj-Mahal, The Eiffel Tower, and the Burj-Khalifa all show that we build houses to look at and not merely to serve us. Carbon dating would solve the second puzzle. In 2001, findings from American and German laboratories put the age of the settlements at 5,000 years. For comparison, the 138-meters high Pyramid of Giza is 4,500 years old.
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How To Go To Caral-Supe
The Supe Valley is 114 miles north of Lima, Peru, or about three and a half-hour drive from the Peruvian capital. The Caral-Supe valley covers an area of about 64-65 hectares and lies in a valley that’s shaped like a bowl with dry, sandy hills all around. Unfortunately, getting to the oldest city in the Americas isn’t that easy by public transport. You may have to plan private tours for a sum of about €205 or $224 from Lima. Alternatively, you can take a four-hour bus trip from Lima to a city called Barranca, about 118 miles from Lima. To make a booking, there’s a useful online directory.
From Barranca, you should expect to pay about $30 for a return trip to Caral-Supe depending on your bargaining skills. However, you can also secure a seat in a collectivo (shared taxis) for about $3 one-way. At the end of your trip, you can find many accommodation facilities in Barranca to rest for the day or make your way back to Lima. Bus transport back to the city is more hassle-free.
If you’re fascinated with the history and technological achievements of ancient civilizations, a trip to the mysteriously intriguing Caral-Supe must be on your bucket list.