The Norte Chico Civilization was an ancient civilization / complex society belonging to the Pre-Columbian era. This civilization flourished in Peru about 5000 years ago, and hence has been considered to be the oldest known civilization to have existed in the Americas. The Norte Chico Civilization is notable today for its monumental constructions, including massive ceremonial pyramids and complex irrigation systems. This ancient civilization lasted until around 1800 BC, after which the settlements were abandoned.
Location of Norte Chico Civilization Sites
The sites of the Norte Chico Civilization are situated around 200 km (124.27 miles) to the north of Lima, in what is today the Norte Chico region of north-central coastal Peru, near Supe, Barranca province. This civilization is known also as the Caral / Caral-Supe Civilization, as its best-studied site is Caral in the Supe Valley. Based on radiocarbon dating, it has been suggested that the formative period of the Norte Chico Civilization was sometime during the 4th millennium BC. The civilization’s greatest period of expansion, however, belongs to the 3rd millennium BC.
The dating of the Norte Chico Civilization shows that these inland sites were developing around the same time as their coastal neighbors. This is important, as it challenges the conventional view that all early civilizations in Peru and the rest of South America began by the sea as coastal settlements. However, a close inter-dependent relationship between the peoples of the coast and the Norte Chico Civilization existed. Trade is believed to have been based on fish from the coast being exchanged for cotton (for the production of fishing nets) from the interior.
The Norte Chico Civilization’s Monumental Architecture
The complexity of the Norte Chico Civilization may be seen in the monumental works that they left behind. The most conspicuous of these are their ceremonial pyramids (sometimes referred to as platform mounds). These pyramids, which are terraced, are rectangular in shape, and were built of stone. In Caral, a total of six pyramids have been discovered, the largest of which is the ‘Pirámide Mayor’.
It has been postulated that the pyramids were built by stuffing stone-filled reed bags against a retaining wall. This process was repeated until the desired pyramid was formed. In addition, irrigation canals were also constructed by the Norte Chico Civilization, which allowed them to develop their agriculture. It has been remarked that all the monumental architecture of this civilization are situated close to irrigation canals, thus indicating their significance.
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