Caral: The New World’s Egypt

Early one lovely Peruvian morning, Ivo and I swiped a bag of sweet rolls from a highway bakery and hit the Pan-American highway.

1463909_10152382274793976_1125324778_n

The dusty yellow shops along the side of the road became fewer and fewer and finally disappeared. Our radio began to fuzz out as we curved farther into the mountains. Eventually, the mountains became a stretch of marsh several miles long: pelicans sometimes leapt up into the air as we drove by.
1424418_10152382277048976_1643927833_n

We drove until the roads started to disintegrate. We started to pass men with donkeys and tractors and trucks piled with more hay than could possibly pass any US safety regulation. Finally, we pulled into a wide gravel parking lot: that had to be it, right? There must be a nice, paved path to our destination, yes?

1455145_10152382277633976_1739747663_n

Nope. Ivo hopped out of the car, only to have a small native Peruvian inform him this was only the starting point of a very long, rigorous hiking tour. To reach the ruins we were seeking, we’d need to continue driving. One chipped windshield, two bumpy crosses over a dry riverbed, and many disturbingly deep ditches later… the vegetation disappeared and we pulled into another, much dustier parking lot.

1472879_10152382279028976_1895032596_n

Give or take a few centuries, about 5,000 years ago in Egypt, a bunch of ancient people were busy hauling stone for these:

Sphynx Khafre Giza Pyramids Classic

While the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid are easy to recognize though, you might not have heard of Caral.

1470280_10152382281913976_1338553788_n

Photo of an arial shot of Caral posted for tourists

About a three-hour drive from what–in about 5,000 years–would be Lima, Peru, the very beginnings of city life in the Americas were appearing exactly here: Caral. This is, loosely speaking, the Egypt of this half of the world map.

1480578_10152382279818976_281299021_n

The remains of this sprawling city centre were first discovered around the 1940s, when Wiley and Corbet (two Harvard grads) dug up a multi-roomed building, some interesting ancient trash, and what they rather unfortunately catalogued as “natural eminences of sand.” Although they thought it was weird to have found corn cobs in the middle of what was essentially a salt marsh, which sounds about as barren as it is, they shrugged and went off to poke dirt somewhere else. It was 30 years before Wiley finally gave in to a nagging feeling about the area and returned to reinvestigate: as it turns out, those “natural eminences” were not so natural.

602295_10152382279628976_508998470_n

As if the initial face-palm oversight was not enough, the results of the carbon dating for the site were (embarrassingly) next rejected as just plain impossible. The city lay undiscovered for almost another 30 years.

1452014_10152382274233976_986332484_n

Finally, finally, enter Solis and Haas: unwilling to let the ruins rest in obscurity for another set of decades, they worked tirelessly across the 150-acre area to unearth the remains of six beautiful platform mounds, the largest at 65 ft. high (after being sandpapered by the desert for 5 centuries).

1459924_10152382280683976_1505961757_n

About in line with the announcement in 2001 that Caral was officially the oldest city of the (apparently poorly named) “New” World, even older than the Great Pyramid, Peru began a massive effort to generate more tourism.

peru-tourism-country-branding

The logo is plastered on millions of tshirts across the country: the country has literally created a brand name for itself, which frankly I think is brilliant. That characteristic swirl? It’s not just based on the tail of the Nazca line monkey.

1461228_10152382282458976_574899797_nSee that large rock at the base of the steps? Below is a close up. Carved into it is the same swirl, put there–you guessed it–about 5,000 years ago.

1477950_10152382283103976_1135826874_n

 

The whole experience of walking through Caral was humbling. The area was striking and bleak; our guide laughed when Ivo asked if his blindingly white wife would need sunscreen. Outside of the shade, the sun was searing. How or why any group of people would choose this as the place to kick off civilization… still though, maybe the most wonderful part of it all was this fact: at the very beginning, in this earliest of cities, there were no defensive walls. There were no weapons. To date, no evidence of war has been found at all. Instruments and booze? You bet. But by and large, when the people there first came together, they didn’t have fighting with each other (or anyone else, for that matter) on their minds.

As Ivo and I headed back down the mountain, the sunny weather faded back into the standard Peruvian grey skies and civilization started to reappear. True to form, Ivo “knew a place” and pulled off about an hour from home.

1458656_10152382274658976_1319724983_n

1466267_10152382275553976_1778143644_n

After a fresh ceviche and a walk on the beach across the street, our tacu-tacu was ready. The giant rice-bean cake was densely packed and stuffed with fresh seafood, from juicy white fish to twirled tentacles. Even though it was election day, which in Peru means selling booze is illegal, this little restaurant was out of the way enough that we were able to toast our adventure before finally heading home.1479472_10152382275878976_368641543_n

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s