c. 3200 BC – c. 1800 BC
You know, I’m learning a lot of new things ever since setting out on this insane project, and I expect to learn a lot more, remember, eventually, I am going all of the way up to South Sudan with this thing. For instance, I had no clue that there was a civilisation in the Americas at any point even close to 1000 BC, let alone 3000 BC, but there was, and we have only in the last twenty years really got any information about them thanks to an expedition led by one Ruth Shady, opening up an archaeological site at the oldest city in the Americas, Caral.
Time and Location
Norte Chico, or Caral (as it’s called in the Spanish-speaking world, the English are just using ‘Little North’ in Spanish), was a civilisation based on the Peruvian coast, away from the highlands of the Andes where people might traditionally think of pre-Colombian South American societies to be dominant (i.e. the Inca), around some coastal valleys north of Lima and centred around the ancient city of Caral.
The astonishing thing about Norte Chico is not only how early it formed, but in an area that doesn’t seem particularly hospitable to an early civilisation forming, On the Peruvian coastline there are many small rivers (not shown on this map), but is a rather arid region, not ideal for early civilisation, yet some people thrived there for over a thousand years. However, all of what we have found are sites close to irrigation channels, meaning these people had developed that very well.
There’s very little I can say about a timeline because we don’t have that kind of information. Major settlement seems apparent from 3200 BC, there was a shift from the coast to further inland around 2500 BC, and by 1800 BC, the sites begin to decline as, we think, people moved to other agricultural centres in more obviously fertile regions, From then we don’t have much of an indication of any particular dominant culture or civilisation until the emergence of the Chavin in 900 BC.
Because of the lack of information, this is a short post. There seems to have been no military, indeed very little evidence that the people of this culture engaged in any type of violence. We obviously have no names of the people who live here, even through legend, because we have no legends. And the trading would have just been with the tribes around them, there would have been no chance of them meeting with any of the Old World civilisations. Even if you are one of those people who… gullibly… subscribes to the idea of ancient Phoenicians circumnavigating the globe or something then this is too early even for that.
And to add to that, unlike virtually every other civilisation I will cover, this was a pre-ceramic society. Which means no pottery. In the slightest. And clearly that’s one of the key tools of the archaeologist. What we have to make do with then are some incredibly old (and certainly not beautiful at all) architectural sites.
That, Caral, is as old as the pyramids. Or near about. And there were terraced pyramid designs there too, of course, if you know anything about Pre-Colombian Central and South America, you’ll know there were pyramids there too. And these sites are so dense across a small area that it’s suspected by some that, this may have been the most densely populated area of the world, remember, the other civilisations I’ve covered have been far more spread out, in its heyday in the third millennium.
Agriculturally, there’s a big argument among Norte Chico scholars about what food they ate, there’s no staple food unless maize was grown and that’s a debated subject. There’s a lot of seafood, prompting the theory of a maritime foundation, unusual given most societies rise through producing cereal, like maize and New World root vegetables like squash and potato also there. Quite different to the Old World at this time. And yes, that is a lot of debate on it, It’s quite interesting, I swear.
It is quite remarkable and proof of innovation across all humans that a New World civilisation rose at nearly the same time as some did at the Old World. However, it would be a while before any other peoples in the Americas would show signs of an organised society…