Pre-Columbian Cultures | Peru Unbound

Peru's Ancient Peoples 

Peru boasts evidence of ancient groups of people dating back more than 11,000 years ago. Hunting tools have been discovered in the caves of Pachacamac, Telarmachay, Junin, and Lauricocha, suggesting a more nomadic lifestyle of these early people.

Over the next 3000 years, it is thought that the people became a little more sedentary and established a farming lifestyle. Gourds and cotton were some of the earliest plants grown. They used these early crops for fishing. The cotton was used to make nets and lines, while the gourds were used as floats. During this time the domestication of animals began too. There’s evidence of animals existing which are ancestors to the llama, the alpaca, and the guinea pig. These people practiced spinning, knitting, basketry, and pottery.

As these people became sedentary, they built settlements. New societies sprung up along the coast and in the Andean mountains. During this time maize became an important staple crop.

Ancient Cities and Cultures 

The most ancient known city in the Americas is located in the Supe Valley north of modern day Lima. It is known as Caral and was built around 2500 BC. What remains of Caral are about 30 pyramidal structures built up in receding terraces ending in a flat roof. Caral is the best studied ancient city in Peru and is thought to have accommodated over 3,000 people. Archeologists assume it was a gentle, peaceful settlement, as there have been no weapons or remains of battle evidence discovered.

Also north of Lima in the Andes is the site Buena Vista. An observatory was discovered here that dates back 4,200 years. The research team that discovered this site believes the observatory was related to the society’s reliance on agriculture and understanding of the seasons. The oldest three-dimensional sculptures in South America have been found here.

Many other civilizations developed and were absorbed by larger, more powerful groups. Around 300 BC the Paracas culture on the southern coast used vicuna fibers instead of just cotton. They are known for being centuries advanced beyond other Peruvian cultures in their textiles. Later coastal cultures like the Moche and Nazca produced impressive metalwork, pottery and textiles.

These coastal cultures eventually declined because of el Nino floods and severe drought. This lent way for the civilizations that dwelt inland in the Andes to became the more predominant cultures of the region. These cultures developed relatively advanced techniques of cultivation, gold and silver craft, pottery, metallurgy, and knitting. By 700 BC they developed systems of social organization that were the precursors of the Inca civilization. You can learn more on an active Peruvian tour by contacting us at or (800) 214-0579.