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Andean preceramic

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Pyramids of Caral
The Pyramids of Caral

Andean preceramic refers to the early period of human occupation in the Andean area of South America that preceded the introduction of ceramics. This period is also called pre-ceramic or aceramic.

Earliest human occupations

The earliest humans that came to South America are known as Paleo-Indians. This period is generally known as the Lithic stage. After this came the period that is widely known as Archaic, although there are also some different classifications of this period. The precise classification is complicated because somewhat different terminologies tend to be used for North America and Mesoamerica.

Andean preceramic period would include some cultures that belong to Lithic and Archaic stages.

Preceramic in Peru

Zaña Valley in northern Peru contains the earliest known canals in South America. These were small preceramic stone-lined canals which drew water from streams in the Andes Mountains region. These canals may have been built as early as 6,700 years ago.

A lot of archaeological work has been done in Peru in relation to the preceramic cultures. While Norte Chico civilization has now been studied extensively, there are also many other sites.

Norte Chico civilization

Map of Norte Chico sites showing their locations in Peru
Map of Norte Chico sites showing their locations in Peru

This ancient period is studied most extensively in relation to the archaeology of Peru. In particular, the Norte Chico civilization is very important. The most impressive achievement of this civilization was its monumental architecture, including large earthwork platform mounds and sunken circular plazas. Also, these preceramic peoples were building massive irrigation and water management projects.

Archaeological evidence suggests a very early use of textiles, and in particular the use of cotton. Also, recent studies (2013) indicate that maize played a big role in this civilization starting as early as 3000 BC, contrary to previous beliefs. Also, beans and sweet potato were grown.[1]

Norte Chico sites are notable for exceptional collective density, as well as individual size. Haas argues that the density of sites in such a small area is globally unique for a nascent civilization. During the third millennium BC, Norte Chico may have been the most densely populated area of the world (excepting, possibly, northern China).[13] The Supe, Pativilca, Fortaleza, and Huaura River valleys each have several related sites.


Caral ceremonial plaza
Caral ceremonial plaza

Caral is an important center of this civilization. The city was inhabited between 2600 and 2000 BCE,[2] enclosing an area of more than 60 hectares.[3]

Caral was first fully documented and analyzed by Dr. Ruth Shady Solís and other Peruvian archaeologists in the late 1990s.[4] A 2001 paper in Science, providing a survey of the Caral research,[5] and a 2004 article in Nature, describing fieldwork and radiocarbon dating across a wider area,[6] revealed Norte Chico's full significance and led to widespread interest.[7]

As a result, Norte Chico has pushed back the horizon for complex societies in the Peruvian region by more than one thousand years.


Huaricanga, also in the Norte Chico region, is believed to be the earliest city of this civilization, and thus it would have been the oldest city in the Americas. It existed around 3500 BCE."[8]

Besides the lack of pottery, a remarkable feature of this civilization is the apparent absence of any artistic or religious symbolism. Or at least they have not been identified so far.

Nevertheless, there is evidence for the worship of certain deities, such as the Staff God, a leering figure with a hood and fangs. The Staff God is a major deity of later Andean cultures, and it has been suggested that its use so early points to the worship of common symbols of gods for a long period of time.[9][10]

A view of Caral
A view of Caral

Sophisticated government is assumed to have been required to manage the ancient Norte Chico. Questions still remain over its organization, particularly the influence of food resources on politics.

Some scholars suggested that Norte Chico was founded on seafood and maritime resources, rather than on the development of an agricultural cereal and crop surpluses, as has been considered essential to the rise of other ancient civilizations. Yet now these views are being revised because of strong evidence for maize consumption.

Casma and Sechin rivers

Several major preceramic archaeological sites are located in the valleys of the Casma River and its tributary the Sechin River. The largest among them is Sechin Alto; the other big mounds are Sechin Bajo, Mojeque, Cerro Sechin, Las Haldas and several others. The dates for these sites start at c. 3600 BCE.

Kotosh Religious Tradition

The Kotosh Religious Tradition is a term used by archaeologists to refer to the ritual buildings that were constructed in the mountain drainages of the Andes between circa 3000 and c.1800 BCE, during the Andean preceramic.[1]

Archaeologists have identified and excavated a number of these ritual centers; the first of these to be discovered was that at Kotosh, although since then further examples have been found at Shillacoto, Wairajirca, Huaricoto, La Galgada and Piruru.[2] These sites are all located in highland zones that are lower than the Puna, and yet there are considerable distances separating them. In spite of this, all these cases of highland preceramic public architecture are remarkably similar.[3]

Other cultural traditions

A pyramid at El Paraiso
A pyramid at El Paraiso

El Paraiso, Peru is a very large early center in the Ancón-Chillón Valley, that may be somewhat related to the Norte Chico tradition. It is approximately from the same time frame as the above. It is just one of the six major preceramic sites in the Ancón-Chillón Valley, including Ancon (archaeological site).

Another important site is Bandurria, Peru, on the Huaura River, featuring monumental architecture that may go back to mid-fourth millennium BC.

In the northern peruvian coast stand out sites such as Huaca Prieta, were the earliest recorded use of indigo dye to date was found and Huaca Ventarron, its painted murals are the oldest discovered in the Americas.

Preceramic in Ecuador

In Ecuador, the Preceramic period is believed to have started around 9000 BC, and lasted until around 4200 BC. According to Jeffrey Quilter, Ecuador yielded plentiful evidence of early dense occupations of the highlands that is so far not found either in Peru or in Bolivia.[11]

Along the Pacific Coast, the Las Vegas culture predominated, while up in the mountains, it was the Inga culture.

The Las Vegas culture is the first known culture in Ecuador. They lived on the Santa Elena Peninsula on the coast of Ecuador between 9000–6000 BC. The skeletal remains and other finds preserve much evidence of this culture.

Scientists have classified three phases of cultural development. The earliest people were hunter-gathers and fisherman. Approximately 6000 BC, these peoples were among the first to begin farming; among their early crops were bottle gourd, Lagenaria siceraria, and an early type of maize, Zea mays L.[12]

El Inga peoples lived high in the mountains near present-day Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Evidence from the archeological site El Inca date the culture to 9000–8000 BC. Excavations were undertaken around 1961. It is believed that, from the archaeological perspective, this area is one of the most important in South America, and it may have existed along an ancient trade route.

Some of the tools used by these early nomadic hunters have provided relationships to the Clovis culture "Level I" at Fell's Cave in southern Chile, and technological relationships to the late Pleistocene "fluted point" complexes of North America.[13]

Preceramic in Colombia

El Abra is the earliest evidence of inhabitation in central Colombia
El Abra is the earliest evidence of inhabitation in central Colombia

El Abra is an important early human settlement site in Colombia with a large cave system. Its investigation started in 1967, and the stratigraphy of lithic instruments, bones and vegetal charcoal with radiocarbon dating established the date of the settlement in 12,400 BP ± 160 years.[14] Other preceramic archaeological sites are Tibitó (11,850 BP), Tequendama, dated to 11,000 years BP, Checua (dated to 8500 BP), Aguazuque (5000 BP) and El Infiernito, dated to 4900 years BP.[15][16][17][18]

Preceramic in Bolivia

The earliest cultures of Bolivia are the Wankarani culture, and the Chiripa. The earliest Wankarani sites are dated from 1800 BC onwards.[19] Wankarani culture arose in the area of the current Oruro Department in Bolivia near Lake Poopo. The Wankarani had developed a copper metallurgy by 1200 B.C.

The area of the Altiplano close to Bolivia yielded the earliest evidence of metalworking in South America. This is the site of Jisk'a Iru Muqu, also spelled Jiskairumoko, in the Lake Titikaka basin, which was first investigated in 1994. A necklace consisting of nine gold beads was found in an excavated grave located next to a Terminal Archaic pit-house. Charcoal recovered from the burial dates the gold beads to 2155-1936 cal BC[20]

Preceramic in Chile

Some of the early preceramic cultures flourished both in Peru and in Chile. This applies to the Chinchorro culture that was active in what is now northern Chile and southern Peru. This culture left us the Chinchorro mummies; these are the oldest examples of artificially mummified human remains in the world. The oldest mummy recovered from the Atacama Desert is dated around 7020 BC.[21] This tradition is believed to have reached a peak around 3000 BC.

See also


  1. ^ Kinver, Mark (February 25, 2013). "Maize was key in early Andean civilisation, study shows". BBC News Online. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  2. ^, "Oldest evidence of city life in the Americas reported in Science, early urban planners emerge as power players" Public release date: 26-Apr-2001 American Association for the Advancement of Science
  3. ^ Archaeological Site in Peru Is Called Oldest City in Americas. The New York Times - 27-Apr-2001
  4. ^ Shady Solís, Ruth Martha (1997). La ciudad sagrada de Caral-Supe en los albores de la civilización en el Perú (in Spanish). Lima: UNMSM, Fondo Editorial. Retrieved 2007-03-03.
  5. ^ Shady Solis, Ruth; Jonathan Haas; Winifred Creamer (27 April 2001). "Dating Caral, a Preceramic Site in the Supe Valley on the Central Coast of Peru". Science. 292 (5517): 723–726. Bibcode:2001Sci...292..723S. doi:10.1126/science.1059519. PMID 11326098.
  6. ^ Haas, Jonathan; Winifred Creamer; Alvaro Ruiz (23 December 2004). "Dating the Late Archaic occupation of the Norte Chico region in Peru". Nature. 432 (7020): 1020–1023. Bibcode:2004Natur.432.1020H. doi:10.1038/nature03146. PMID 15616561.
  7. ^ See CNN, for instance.
  8. ^ Mann, C. C., ed. (2005). 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. University of Texas. ISBN 978-1-4000-3205-1.
  9. ^ Hoag, Hanna (15 April 2003). "Oldest evidence of Andean religion found". Nature News (online). doi:10.1038/news030414-4.
  10. ^ Hecht, Jeff (14 April 2003). "America's oldest religious icon revealed". New Scientist (online). Retrieved 2007-02-13.
  11. ^ Jeffrey Quilter, The Ancient Central Andes. Routledge World Archaeology, 2013 ISBN 1317935241 p107
  12. ^ Stothert, Karen E. (July 1985). "The Preceramic Las Vegas Culture of Coastal Ecuador". American Antiquity. 50 (3): 613–637. doi:10.2307/280325. JSTOR 280325.
  13. ^ William J. Mayer-Oakes; Robert E. Bell (17 June 1960). "Early Man Site Found in Highland Ecuador". Science. 131 (3416): 1805–1806. Bibcode:1960Sci...131.1805M. doi:10.1126/science.131.3416.1805. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 17753208.
  14. ^ Correal Urrego, 1990, p.70
  15. ^ Gómez Mejía, 2012, p.153
  16. ^ (in Spanish) Nivel paleoinfio abrigos rocosos del Tequendama
  17. ^ Groot, 1992, p.58
  18. ^ (in Spanish) Investigaciones arqueológicas en Villa de Leiva - Banco de la República
  19. ^ Jason (Jake) R. Fox, Time and Process in an Early Village Settlement System on the Bolivian Southern Altiplano. Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine PhD Thesis 2007
  20. ^ Aldenderfer, Mark; Craig, Nathan M.; Speakman, Robert J.; Popelka-Filcoff, Rachel (2008), "Four-thousand-year-old gold artifacts from the Lake Titicaca basin, southern Peru", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105 (13): 5002–5, Bibcode:2008PNAS..105.5002A, doi:10.1073/pnas.0710937105, JSTOR 25461542, PMC 2278197, PMID 18378903
  21. ^ Arriaza, Bernardo T. Beyond Death: The Chinchorro Mummies of Ancient Chile. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1995. Print.


External links

This page was last edited on 10 September 2019, at 05:20
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