To the north of Lima, the desert stretches up between the Pacific Ocean and the foothills of the Andes. A couple of short trips north of Lima are becoming increasingly popular as long-weekend breaks. One of these is a horseshoe loop connecting the Chillón and Chancay valleys via the beautiful town and region of Canta in the foothills of the Andes. Another route, further out from Lima, heads up the Huara Valley from Huacho; although the road can be traced all the way to Huánuco, most people only get as far up into the Andes as Churin where their efforts are pleasantly rewarded with a visit to the hot springs. Futher north again, yet still feasible as a day-trip from Lima, the recently discovered pyramids of Caral are considered to be the most ancient ruins in the Americas.
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North up the coast from Huacho, only the town and port of Supe breaks the monotonous beauty of desert and ocean, until you reach Barranca and the labyrinthine ruins of the Fortress of Paramonga. Inland from Supe, however, along the desert coast in a landscape that looks more lunar than agricultural, archeologists have uncovered one of the most important finds of the past century. Thought to be the oldest city in the Americas at around five thousand years old, the ancient pyramids of Caral are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From humble beginnings, Caral developed into one of the earliest metropolises, representing human achievements that took place four thousand years earlier than the Incas: the stone ceremonial structures here were flourishing a hundred years before the Great Pyramid at Giza was even built.
Archeologists have studied its temples, houses and plazas, and the artefacts unearthed here, to form a picture of the ancient Caral culture, which focused heavily on agriculture and construction. There’s evidence of ceremonial functions, too, and music was also important: a collection of coronets and flutes have been found on site.
The heart of the site covers about 150 acres. There are two large, sunken circular plazas, the base of the tallest mound measurimg 154m by 138m, making it the largest pyramid yet found in Peru. Excavations have revealed that this Piramide Mayor (main pyramid) was terraced, with a staircase leading up to an atrium-like platform, culminating in a flattened top housing enclosed rooms and a ceremonial fire pit. Some of the best artefacts discovered here include 32 flutes made from pelican and animal bones and engraved with the figures of birds and even monkeys, demonstrating a connection with the Amazon region.
The six mounds, or pyramids, are arranged together around a large plaza. Archeologists believe that the pyramids were constructed in a maximum of two phases, which suggests a need for particularly complex social structures for planning, decision-making and the mobilization of a large sector of the population to provide sufficient labour as and when it was required. Around the pyramids is evidence of many residential structures.