The civilization of Andean Peru has been a subject of debate for many years. It has attracted attention of many archeologists (Miller, 2005). Ancient Peruvians for almost five thousand years ago are said to have built pyramids and monumental temples near the coast. This shows that civilization in Peru is one of the oldest in the world (Mann, 2005). Different archeologists have identified the coastal desert of Peru as the spot for ancient civilization. How did the civilization of Peru start? Was the Peruvian civilization unique from the rest of the world? These two questions have been the basis of disagreement between archeologists from Peru and North America over Caral, an archeological site in Peru.
Located 23 kms and 182 kms from the coast and north of Lima respectively Caral is situated on alluvial terrace at the central valley of Supe, 350m above the sea (Shady, 2006). According to Shady (2006) Caral is the first complex city in the historic world. Pringle (2001) describes it as the architectural wonder of its time. It was characterized by complex structures; ceremonial rooms for religion, modest homes with stone walls, and plazas made from quarried stones (Shady, 2006). The interests of archeologists have been to determine the age of these structures and the cause of civilization in Peru. Disagreements have been between Shady (Peruvian) and Chicago based couple archeologists, Haas and Creamer.
The three archeologists had collaborated on a paper in 2001 (Journal of Science) in which they reported that Caral was the first known urban centre (Miller, 2005).Miller (2005) notes that their research argued that the Caral’s massive structures dated back to 2627 B.C. They further found that although Peru had not made many discoveries the Caral Peruvians had an amazing level of social complexity (Miller, 2005). Their work received lot of publicity, both in Peru and United states. Disagreement arose when the Haas and Creamer did a paper in December 2004 (known as Nature) in which they received lot of publicity and credit. Their work was seen as the opening of Caral for archeological activities by US archeologists. In their work they had mentioned Shady in footnotes. This irritated Shady and her allies who argued that Haas and Creamer were not the first to do such a research in the coast of Peru. Haas and Creamer were accused of representing their work as original while research in the same had been done since 1940s. Shady accused the couple of plagiarism and sought for legal action for violation of intellectual rights (Miller, 2005). Till today they have never agreed.
As Miller (2005) puts it the differences in these archeologists was not about ‘hurt feelings’ but about ideas in the Peruvian civilization. Michael Moseley proposal of ‘seafood as the basis for Andean civilization’ was a theory that caused controversy among these three archeologists. Shady started researching on Caral in 1996. She supported the Moseley theory in her work although there were some alterations she included in agreement with Moseley. Her believe was that civilization of Peru was unique from the rest of the world. The first finding was that Caral was headquarter for Peruvian civilization and was the earliest of all. She also theorized that Caral residents practiced agriculture. They grew industrial cotton which was used by their coastal neighbors for making fishing nets. They also grew fruits, chilies, gourds and wood which they exchanged for salt, fish and mollusks from neighbors such Aspero Peruvians. Shady believed that these enterprises made Caral to outgrow all the other coastal regions to become the largest.
In their controversial research at Norte Chico, Haas and Creamer argued that the there was nothing unique with the civilization of Peru. They believed that the rise was similar to that of other parts of the world; Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and Mexico. To Haas and Creamer civilization was a result of agriculture. Irrigation was the accelerator for transformation of tribal societies into states. They opposed Moseley maritime hypothesis of civilization. They denounced Shady’s findings that Caral was the largest and oldest. They believed there were more complex sites and older than Caral. Haas argued that claims by Shady that Caral was the capital of civilization had no evidence at all. He further noted that these tribal cities were competing for growth and that is why there were structures in various coastal areas. Further exploration of more sites showed more complex structures than those in Caral.
Shady argument was loyal to the Moseley maritime hypothesis while Haas and Creamer opposed it strongly. In her work Shady found that there were agricultural activities practiced in Caral. But she did not attribute the inland civilization to agriculture. In their place Haas and Creamer discovered cotton and fishnet traces in Norte Chico. With this fact they attributed civilization of Peru to irrigation agriculture at the coast. From their excavations Haas and Creamer discovered sites which dated back more years than Caral (Miller, 2005). They concluded that Caral was not the oldest and largest center of civilization.
In my own opinion I concur with Haas and Creamer arguments in the following basis. Moseley findings confirmed there was agriculture within the coastal region as well as Shady’s. In their research Haas and Creamer found similar results. This is an indication that although fishing was one of the activities in the ancient Peru, agriculture was common. Caral Peruvians practiced agriculture of both industrial and subsistence products (Miller, 2005). Therefore irrigation agriculture was responsible for Peru civilization.
Another reason for support of Haas and Creamer argument is that the oldest city in Peru has never been known. In their excavations they found some structures which were older than those found in Caral. Furthermore Shady’s deeper excavation into the structures of Caral confirmed that she had not yet found the actual age of the site. This means that there is a lot of research needed in order to come to a consensus on the oldest city in Peru and also the origin of civilization in Peru.
Caral is one of the important sites for Peru as a nation. It is still unexploited site for archeological facts. Deeper excavations are required in order to determine the real dating of the complex structures. This will clearly define origin of civilization in Peru. The site can also be a tourist site as one of the oldest and origin of the Peruvian civilization. It is also important for young researchers and scholars who have interest in archeology as a learning tool. The state of Peru therefore needs to solve the controversy and preserve this site for the benefits stated above.
Miller, K. (2005). Showdown at the O.K. Caral. Discover.
Pringle, H. (2001). The First Urban Center in the Americas. Science, 292, 621-622.
Mann, C. (2005). Oldest Civilization in the Americas Revealed. Science 307, 34-35.
Shady, S. R. (2006). America’s First City? The Case of Late Archaic Caral. IN Andean Archeology III, p. 28-66