On our search around the world for other significant cultures that were contemporaneous with what was happening in the Middle East in the 4th millennium BCE, we finally found a striking parallel. Frankly, I was surprised when I found a complex culture emerging along the Pacific coast of northern Peru in a sterile, arid land divided by rivers that was strikingly like what was happening in southern Mesopotamia, and it was only lagging late Ubaid/early Uruk by perhaps 500 to 1000 years. These Peruvians developed irrigated agriculture as did the Ubaid, and began building very substantial monumental architecture, comparable to the Uruk era. They were separated by 8,400 miles (14,000 kilometers) and at least 10,000 years since their forebears separated. I searched for but didn’t find a genetic comparison tracking back to a separation point, although paper I will introduce next week does address that subject regarding Europeans and Eurasians, and gives an important insight into the effect of the Inca conquest on both coastal and altiplano (high plain) Peruvians and Bolivians.
In today’s post, we will look at the earliest Peruvian civilization and its offspring cultures, and in the next post the Inca civilization which conquered and consolidated these descendants. We saw how the Aztecs conveniently conquered, subjugated, tortured, and slaughtered all their Mesoamerican neighbors just a couple centuries before the Spanish arrived, and thus provided ready, vengeful allies to help the arriving Spanish conquer the Aztecs. This same process was replicated by the Inca, as they conquered and consolidated independent civilizations from Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, all of which were easily absorbed by the Spanish when they arrived and conquered the Inca nation. It’s hard to believe that the timing of the Spanish arrival was merely fortuitous for them, while a death knell for Aztec and Inca. From what I’ve seen, all the Mesoamericans got what they deserved. Let’s see how we feel about these Andean peoples after we’ve examined their ways.
Peru’s story begins in The Sechura Desert.The earliest hunter-gatherer Paiján culture has been radiocarbon dated to 8700-5900 BCE. But today’s remarkable story starts with the Norte Chico civilization which was beginning to construct monumental architecture by the 35th Century BCE, about the time the Sumerian culture at Uruk was supplanting their Ubaid predecessors in Southern Mesopotamia. We have four videos which will give you an in-depth perspective on this hugely important and oldest civilization in the Americas. I urge you not to skip any of these videos unless you’re already familiar with the Caral and Chimú cultures. This was a huge eye opener for me.
First is this short UNESCO video (2:41) describing the Sacred City of Caral-Supe as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll find it along the Rio Supe in the map on left.
Second is this 43:59 National Geographic video: Caral Hidden Pyramids of Peru. The theme of this version seems propagandistic, where the narrator and archaeologists declare that the site was found to be free from weapons and defensive structures, and therefore was founded without warfare. I see things otherwise. If your group has large numbers and you are unaware of any other groups in your area, then you might be light on defensive weapons. That’s always a mistake, because when you discover the other group, they’re going to be sweeping across the farmland with weapons and destroy your city. Don’t, for a minute, think I’m cynical. Keep reading about how these early Peruvians’ culture developed.
The third is this 49:04 minute BBC video: The Lost Pyramids of Caral, which tells the story without such blatant pacifistic hype–an unfortunate leap of fantasy for some archaeologists. As we will see, ancient Peruvians were no more pacifistic than their peers in Egypt and Mesopotamia, whose depredations we examined in earlier posts.
The following paper: Early Monumental Architecture of Peruvian Coast is a scholarly piece which will serve as a fourth perspective on this region. It’s divided into seven sections, which are worth your skimming: (1) Chronology, (2) The Preceramic Monuments, (3) The Initial Period Monuments, (4) Chronology and Patterns in Monument Types & Locations, (5) Monuments as Evidence of Social and Political Organization, (6) The Diverse Interpretations of the Evidence, and (7) After Notes.
The following excavated monuments also date to this pioneering period:
- Huaricanga, in the Rio Fortaleza region of the above map, dates from 3500 BCE to the Christian Era.
- Aspero, at the mouth of the Rio Supe in the above map started in the uncalibrated date range of 3700~2500 BCE.
- The frieze at the Casma/Sechin (Sechin Complex) culture is tentatively dated at 3600 BCE.
With beginnings around 3000 BCE, Chavín de Huantar started monumental construction by 1200-500 BCE. There, the Chavín religion emerged during the period 900-200 BCE, and was focused upon the demon sculpted into the Lanzón statue. Religion from that period grew increasingly dark, as will be seen in today’s last video. The Chankillo Solar Observatory was built in 300 BCE and is undoubtedly related to religion, but it also served a practical function to mark the solstices and equinoxes.
Following the decline of the Caral and Casma, the Moche (early Chimú) culture rose during the period 100-700 CE. At this point, seriously beautiful personal, household, and worship artifacts were widely available. Here is a broad representation of this craftsmanship.
The periodic catastrophe of Climate Change emerged in the Extreme Weather Events of 535-536 CE and apparently crippled the Moche culture, which led to the emergence of the Wari Empire (600-1100 CE) and Túcume (800-1350 CE). Peruvian coastal cultures then thrived until absorbed under the total dominance of the Chimú culture (900-1470 CE) with its capitol at Chan Chan (900-1470 CE). Chimu artifacts were clearly less artistic than those of the Moche. This 58:52 minute video, The Kingdom of the Desert, focuses upon the grandeur of the Chimú empire, but also upon the full, evil darkness of their religion. And based upon that vicious religion, I won’t shed a tear knowing the Chimú culture was conquered by the Inca in 1470 AD
In the next post, we will move on to what appears to be a 15th century blitzkrieg, completing the acquisition of all that was worth conquering in South America by the Inca Empire during the period 1100-1535 CE–just in time to lose it to the buccaneering Spanish, who had just digested the Aztec Empire.
Thanks for visiting,
R. E. J. Burke