The Japan Times
April 28, 2001

Peru complex built 4,000 years ago apparently thrived before it vanished

WASHINGTON (AP) A Peruvian complex of towering pyramids, irrigation canals and apartment-like buildings may have been the Americas' first urban center, built by a civilization that thrived more than 4,000 years ago.

Researchers say new age-dating studies indicate a site 200 km north of Lima shows evidence that a large and complex civilization of industrious farmers, craftsmen and fishermen carved out a thriving inland metropolis that lasted for hundreds of years and then disappeared.

The site, called Caral, was built by people who probably were ancestors of the Incas, who later built cities elsewhere in South America.

"What we're learning from Caral is going to rewrite the way we think about development of early Andean civilization," said Jonathan Hass, a researcher from the Field Museum in Chicago and coauthor of a study set to appear Friday in the journal Science.

Hass said chemical agedating of material from Caral shows that the first major structure, an 18-meter pyramid, was built about 2627 B.C.

The people, who are unnamed, lived on vegetables and fish but did not grow grains, such as corn, and did not make pottery, usually a common artifact of ancient civilizations. Hass said the people grew cotton that probably was used to weave nets for catching sardines, anchovies and other fish.

The Caral site is 20 km from the Pacific coast, and Hass said the people apparently were heavily dependent on seafood as a source of protein.

Why the civilization declined is not known, but Hass said it could be because the soil became exhausted from 600 years of agriculture, and new complexes were built to the north and south.

CARAL, Peru - A man stands amid the ruins of adobe dwellings in this undated photo.
The site may have had pyramids, canals and apartments in the third millennium B.C.