Thursday, October 21, 2010

Caral: the oldest town, oldest pyramids in the New World

Philip Coppens - Sometime before 3200 BC, if not 3500 BC, something happened in the Norte Chico in Peru, an agronomical no-go area, where hardly anything grows. This, however, is the site where the oldest traces of a “genuine civilisation” – pyramids included – were found in America.

Here, at least 25 large ceremonial/residential sites have so far been found, of which Caral has become the most famous. The North Chico, roughly 100 km north of the Peruvian capital Lima, consists of four narrow river valleys, from south to north, the Huaura, Supe, Pativilca, and Fortaleza. The ancient pyramids of Caral predate the Inca civilisation by 4000 years, but were flourishing a century before the pyramids of Gizeh. No surprise therefore that they have been identified as the most important archaeological discovery since the discovery of Machu Picchu in 1911.

The first full-scale archaeological investigation of the region took place in 1941 in Aspero, when Gordon R. Willey and John M. Corbert of Harvard investigated a salt marsh at the mouth of the Supe. They found a big trash heap and a multiroomed building with no pottery and a few maize cobs under the pounded clay floor. They wondered how maize could have been cultivated in a salt marsh and why these people could have agriculture, yet no pottery. Willey and Corbett also found six mounds, some of them nearly five metres tall. They were catalogued as "natural eminences of sand".

Thirty years later, Willey, in the company of Michael E. Moseley, revisited the site and realised that these "natural eminences" were in fact "temple-type platform mounds". He also realised there might have been as many as seventeen such mounds, all of which Willey had missed on his first exploration of the site. "It is an excellent, if embarrassing, example of not being able to find what you are not looking for", he commented later.

As to its age: carbondating revealed that Aspero could go back to 3000 BC, whereby samples from a nearby site even revealed a date of 4900 BC. Those objective findings were nevertheless seen as impossible - far too old with "what was known" and hence not accepted. ...

For an unknown reason, Caral was abandoned rapidly after a period of 500 years (ca. 2100 BC). The preferred theory as to why the people migrated is that the region was hit by a drought, forcing the inhabitants to go elsewhere in search of fertile plains. The fact that the Staff God is found two millennia later elsewhere in Southern America shows that these people did not disappear; they merely moved elsewhere, and seem to have built other religious centres on their travels. ...

via Caral: the oldest town in the New World.

The illustration provides an interesting idea about the Egyptian pyramids design. Was there some influence from Caral on Giza? If so, it may be that what started as elevated platforms with some buildings on top evolved into a full blown pointed pyramid as the walls were built higher for protection or whatever. I say this because the roofs on some of the buildings in the Caral illustration remind me of the shapes of the chambers inside the Giza pyramid.

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