Location: Supe Valley, Peru
Belief: Andean Religion
The sacred city of Caral lies in the Supe Valley in Peru. It sits inland from the coast, with no obvious water sources. So why was such a big settlement created in this location. Evidence suggests that it was a regional trading hub, but was there more to Caral – was there a religious dimension to its rise? Much of our knowledge of the site is thanks to the relentless work of Ruth Shady Solis of Peru, who has led a team excavating the sites for many years.
Caral had a significant settlement and advanced culture 5,000 years ago on a site of 150 acres. With a population of around 3,000 people in the main city and an estimated 20,000 in the related satellite towns, it was one of the earliest and largest cities in southern America.
Aside from many dwellings, Caral had an amphitheatre, several plazas, administrative buildings and also many temples. This was around 3,000 BCE, when they were building stone circles in Europe and the Egyptians were starting to build pyramids, so they were advanced for their time.
The main temple of Caral is 28 metres high with a very wide base area, and some estimates suggest that thousands of workers would have been needed to erect the pyramid. The nearby amphitheatre would have accommodated hundreds of people for religious events.
There are 19 other pyramid temple sites across the city complex, often built as smaller pyramids. The structures near the pyramids suggest that these were the elites of society who managed the temple affairs and administration.
Recent architectural work and research is showing that religion was established in the region much earlier than thought. The finding of a staff god in Tiwanaku dating back 4,000 years illustrates that formal religion was active in the region.
It is possible that a significant religious leader inspired this community to come together and suddenly make big advances that would eventually lead to the more advanced Inca empire based in Peru.
 Smithsonian, “First City in the New World?,”(August 2002): accessed 12 June 2022, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/first-city-in-the-new-world-66643778/.
 Hannah Hoag, “Oldest Evidence of Andean Religion Found,” Nature, April 15, 2003: Accessed June 12, 2022, https://www.nature.com/articles/news030414-4#:~:text=Archaeologists%20have%20found%20the%20oldest,made%20from%20a%20seed%20pod.
Ruthy Shady Solis, Jonathan Haas & Winifred Creamer, “Dating Caral, A Preceramic Site in the Supe Valley on the Central Coast of Peru,” Science, Vol. 292, 723-726 (2001): Accessed June 12, 2022, https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.1059519.