Researchers in Peru have discovered three statues and two faces believed to be from the ancient Caral civilization located on the coast north of the capital, Lima.

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According to a report on the discovery by the website Phys Org , the statuettes were found inside a reed basket in the ancient city of Vichama in northern Peru, more properly known as Caral, located north of Lima on the Peruvian coast. Two of the statues depict a man and a woman, both naked, painted in white, black and red. The people they represent may have been important political functionaries within the Caral society, also known as the Norte Chico civilization. A third statue has 28 fingers and red dots painted on her face, perhaps representing a priestess. Two other items were discovered, both made from mud and depicting women’s faces. They were wrapped in cloth and covered with yellow, blue and orange feathers.

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The Caral society appeared 5,000 years ago and Caral itself is just one of some 18 ancient settlements in Peru’s Supe Valley. The Supe Valley was initially explored by the German archaeologist Max Uhle in 1905 but the lack of pottery and the deterioration of the visible remains meant that more extensive investigations were not carried out until several decades later. It was only in the 1970s that the hills in the valley, previously thought to be natural, were revealed instead as stepped pyramids, which is one of the distinguishing features of the Caral culture, alongside sunken amphitheatres and large public spaces. More extensive excavations were carried out in the 1990s leading to the discovery of Caral City itself in 2007 by Dr Ruth Shady.

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Caral City covers an area of between 65 to 165 hectares and consists of a complex of pyramidal structures and monuments that can be dated to the Late Archaic period between 3000 and 1800 BC. The largest of these pyramids is 60 feet high, extending to 450 feet by 500 feet at its base, covering the equivalent of four modern football fields. Large rooms on top of the pyramids served as accommodation.

Dr Shady calls Caral the ‘Mother City’ of the Americas since it is the oldest urban centre yet discovered in the Americas, predating the societies of the Olmecs, Maya, Mississippian, Ancestral Puebloan, and Aztec cultures. Some features of the Caral society that were later passed on to later Peruvian peoples include the quipu, a series of knotted strings used for keeping records in the absence of any written language.

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Later inhabitants, successors to the Caral civilization, lived their lives in a sustainable fashion, practicing recycling, energy efficiency and sustainable building techniques but the site is still being studied and it contains structures which remain mysterious with regard to their exact function. So far, 12 mounds have been discovered alongside other smaller buildings with large spaces. The city thrived at the same time as other ancient civilizations, such as ancient China, Egypt and Mesopotamia and both cities display the same level of architectural complexity with regard to their organization, pyramidal buildings, squares and other public spaces.

The Peruvian Cultural Ministry, based in Lima, believe the statues were used in religious rituals performed before the construction of new buildings.

Other artifacts found at Caral have included musical instruments such as bone flutes and cornets, often decorated with images of animals and birds. Another interesting feature of the city is its complete lack of evidence of conflict. No mutilated bodies have ever been found there or weapons or fortifications. The Caral culture appears to have been largely agrarian, growing crops such as bean, squash and cotton and maintaining a complex irrigation system.

The city was finally abandoned in 2100 BC but archaeologists have not yet been able to discover why. Its inhabitants may have been absorbed by other cultures in the area.

Featured image: The three statues unearthed by archaeologists in Peru. Credit: Peru’s Ministry of Culture.

By Robin Whitlock for

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