Archaeological evidence continues to surface and change the course of history as told by mainstream scientists; that is to say it goes against the grain of what historians believe is true based on evidence dug up in the past. A prime example can be found at Caral in Peru.
Up until the discovery of the Caral Pyramids in 2000, it was believed the oldest civilisation in the Andes was the Chavin who thrived from around 900 BCE. Caral, reset the historical records back by about 2000 years.
Surrounded by rugged lines of distant mountains, the sacred city is located in the dry desert terrace overlooking the valley of the Supe River. It dates back to the Late Archaic Period of the Central Andes and is the one of the earlier centres of civilization in the Americas together with Sechin Bajo.
The Caral complex includes pyramidal structures and the flamboyant residences of the ancient elite, indicating the site was used for the religious functions where influential priests would have performed powerful ceremonies which were used to communicate the ideologies of the day.
Getting to Caral
To get to Caral, take a bus from Lima to Supe, a little dusty town with few hotels and restaurants. I travelled with Tourismo Barracas situated on Av. Abancay. It cost the princely sum of 12 soles (about 2.50GBP) for the four hour journey. Busses leave at 4, 5, and 6pm.
The bus didn’t stop in Supe and as nobody I spoke to with from the company understood English, I was not aware I was in Supe until I saw the sign on the way out. By then it was too late so I had to get a collective back – another 30p down the drain! I found a hotel on the main square in Supe, simply enough, called Hotel Caral. Nobody spoke English there either, but the hotel manager, Edgardo was very helpful. My pigeon Spanish was improving somewhat and he recommended a nice restaurant that served a delicious chicken and pineapple fried rice.
The next day Edgardo took me to where the taxi leaves for Caral. With your back to the hotel, turn left off the main square and walk two blocks until you come to a street called Lamar. You will hear someone shouting, “CARAL.” That’s your taxi. It cost about five soles (1GBP).
The taxi driver beckoned for me to get in the front whilst three locals and a child piled into the back. They were either on their way home or to work and we dropped them off along the way. We arrived at Caral and the driver pulled into an open gravel space that appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. Several people sat around aimlessly.
I got out the cab and wandered over to an official looking man in a beige uniform holding a clipboard. He babbled at me in Spanish and pointed towards the mountains on the other side of the bridge that crossed a drying-up river. I followed a path marked out with stones half buried in the sand and eventually came to a site with several half demolished – or rather partially re-built – pyramids.
The guides of Caral
Caral is very much a tourist attraction in the making. When I reached the far end of the complex I found newly built wooden huts housing a tourist information centre, restaurant and dining areas. Workmen were chopping up bamboo and pieces of wood. I wandered into the site and was stopped by an official. He babbled at me in Spanish and pointed at a kiosk. My Spanish is pretty poor, but the pointing really worked. I had to pay 11 soles. (£2.50)
I bought a bottle of water and a packet of biscuits together with my ticket and was shocked to be charged 34 soles (£4.50). I thought I had been fleeced with the water and biscuits. They normally cost around 60p. I questioned the charges and was told I had to pay 20 soles (£5) for a guide to accompany me for safety reasons. For a guide that’s quite reasonable.
I was asked to wait 10 minutes for a guide to show. His name was Marco-Ramero.
“Hablo Ingles?” I asked.
“Oh. Un poco problemo. No hablo Espanol.”
In pigeon Spanish, I told Marco I would not require his services. He said he had to accompany me as visitors are not allowed on the site alone. (At least that was the gist of what I understood). Paths are laid out around the complex and there is no reason why visitors shouldn’t be allowed to go on their own. That the complex is still being excavated may be reason enough as it is a potential danger hazard, but given Peru’s complete ignorance of health and safety, but experienced know-how of fleecing tourists, I came to the conclusion a Caral tour guide is a way for locals to make money.
Peru’s ancient temples
Caral was built around 3000 BCE to 1800 AD. At the time of its discovery it is the oldest known ancient site in Peru – and may be billed as such for the benefit of visitors. However, in 2008, a settlement near Casma in central Peru was discovered that dates to around 5500 BCE, although to date, not many people know about Sechin Bajo.
Caral has a total of nine temples that have been unearthed and are in the process of being restored under the governance of the UNESCO World Heritage Trust. When I visited in 2011 the ruins were only partially built, but give it five years or so and the complex will be a more eye-catching attraction.
First off, we came to the Altar of the Sacred Fire. Marco gave me his spiel, but I didn’t understand a word of it. From the pictures on the boards however I was able to grasp that it was a small ceremonial complex in which fires were stoked in a circular-walled structure. Perhaps this was where the Caral civilisation made their despachos to Pachamama, similar to the ceremony I had participated in during my San Pedro experience back in Pisac.
Some of the pyramids had residential areas annexed to them which I found an interesting point, but of course couldn’t ask why they did this exactly. What I did make out was that the steps of the Huanca Pyramid (pronounced wanker) are original. Using sign language I try to explain to Marco what the word “Huanca” means in English. He didn’t seem amused.
Aligned with the stars
We came to a small monolithic stone buried in the ground. I suspected it would have been used as a sun dial to measure the solstices and equinoxes. Marco confirmed the same. Like every other site I had been to, the layout of the Caral settlement was built with astronomical designs. I suspected the complex was for high society, priests and astronomers and asked Marco if the lay out mirrored constellations in the cosmos.
“Si,” he confirmed. To show me what exactly, he knelt in the sand and drew the constellation of Pleiades, a constellation of seven stars. Tiwanaku in northern Bolivia is the same shape. I am curious why the ancients have an obsession with Pleiades, but Marco does not know. Archaeologists don’t either.
Caral was not much to look at when I visited, but was interesting all the same, given my knowledge and interest in ancient civilisations. I suspect that by around 2018/19, the site will be an eye-catching tourist attraction that will intrigue independent thinkers. Make sure you visit Caral before it becomes over populated by tourists.
You can learn more about ancient Andean cultures in Journeys To Ancient Worlds: What Modern Man Can Learn From Ancient Civilisations – essential reading for travellers in South America.