The beginning of the research

Dra. Ruth Shady Solís

In 1992 Dr. Ruth Shady intensified her research into the origins of Andean civilization, focusing on the north-central area of Peru, after reviewing the evidence she had obtained in previous research in Bagua and the literature then available.  As a result, in 1993 she wrote and published the article Del Arcaico al Formativo en los Andes Centrales[1] (Revista Andina 21: 103-132, Centro Bartolomé de las Casas, Cuzco), where she examined the information which at that time indicated that the Chavín phenomenon (1800 – 200 B.C.) was the synthesis of a cultural process that had been occurring for centuries; and, based on this proposal, she began to prepare an investigation that would support it.

To obtain data for her research, she decided to explore Supe Valley, 180 kilometers north of the city of Lima.  Starting in 1993, on the weekends, with the logistical support of what was then the National Institute of Culture, and with the participation of four of her former students, she prospected Supe Valley for two years.  She identified 18 archaeological settlements with similar features; their age was not yet being discussed.  As her research progressed, in 1995 she published the article: La neolitización en los Andes Centrales y los orígenes del sedentarismo, la domesticación y la distinción social[2] (Saguntum, Revista del Departamento de Prehistoria y Arqueología, 28: 49-61, University of Valencia, Spain); and in 1996 she finished the prospection in the valley.  She then chose the Sacred City of Caral to begin archaeological work that would give clues for the chronological location, and she would then schedule the pertinent studies.  To do this, she created the Caral Archaeological Project and began working on the Caral site, with a small fund from the National Geographic Society.

[1] “From the Archaic to the Formative in the Central Andes”
[2] “Neolithization in the Central Andes and the origins of sedentarism, domestication, and social distinction”

Caral Archaeological Project and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos

Museo de Arqueología y Antropología UNMSM

Results of the investigations indicated that the Sacred City of Caral was the concrete testimony of the formation of the first Andean civilization that had come into being around 3000 B.C. in the extensive territory of north-central Peru, with the participation of populations living in the different ecological zones of the coastal region, Andean highlands, and jungle region; and that the society with the most prestige was in Supe Valley, where a state government supervised the construction of immense cities and monumental buildings of stone and mud.  This revolutionary knowledge transformed the ideas held until then and modified the chronological scheme of Andean culture, which linked the emergence of the Andean “high culture” with the appearance of ceramics, around 1800 B.C.  In mid-1997, Dr. Shady presented the results of her research in the publication La Ciudad Sagrada de Caral-Supe en los Albores de la Civilización en el Perú [1](Fondo Editorial UNMSM, 75 p.).  When she took over as Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, at the end of 1997, Dr. Shady affiliated the Caral Archaeological Project with the museum.

The investigations of Caral Archaeological Project in the Sacred City of Caral continued with the personal and economic support of Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, thanks to the full identification with the research on the part of the Chairman of the Reorganization Committee of the University, Dr. Manuel Paredes Manrique.  A small team of archaeology graduates and local helpers took part in the work.  At the site there was no shelter and no water, electricity, or telephone.  Despite the limitations, the research continued and, as from 2000, it expanded to include the neighboring settlement of Chupacigarro, which was being destroyed.

In mid-2000, having listened to a lecture given in May 1998 by Dr. Shady at Chicago’s Field Museum of   Natural History, an American husband-and-wife team of archaeologists traveled to Peru to visit Caral and they offered to take samples of fibers obtained by Dr. Shady to be processed by a radiocarbon dating laboratory.  The dating produced by the sample confirmed the great antiquity  that Dr. Shady had suggested for the Sacred City of Caral in the article Dating Caral, a Preceramic Site in the Supe Valley on the Central Coast of Peru, in Science magazine(27 April 2001, 292: 723-726). However, in the worldwide presentation of the article in April 2001, the Americans referred to themselves as the discoverers of Caral, so it was necessary to make the pertinent clarification and distinction.

The publication of the article about Caral in Science magazine, and its global repercussion, prompted the Peruvian Minister of Education, Dr. Marcial Rubio, to visit Caral; and he then invited the President of Peru, Dr. Valentín Paniagua, to visit Caral with all his ministers to become apprised of the results of the research and their cultural significance for Peruvian history.

After the visit to Caral, the President and his government team decided to grant State support to the research being done by Caral Archaeological Project.  Accordingly, in June 2001, they issued Supreme Decree 040-2001-ED, which declared of priority national interest the investigation, registration, value enhancement, and preservation of the Sacred City of Caral, the main settlement of the Caral civilization; and they awarded a budget for these tasks, effective from 2002, which would be channeled through the budget of the university (Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos). With these new funds it was possible to enlarge the scope of the work in the urban center of Caral, as well as in Chupacigarro, Miraya, and Lurihuasi.

Unfortunately, the new University President did not understand the importance of the archaeological value enhancement work.  He objected to State funds being awarded through the university budget; and in June 2002, he decided to change the Director of the Archaeology and Anthropology Museum and remove the Caral-Supe Archaeological Project from the Museum.  Because of this attitude, the Project was left without personnel, premises, and tools; and also without access to the archaeological collections of items recovered during the investigations.  Nevertheless, the team of professionals and students continued with their research in Dr. Shady’s house and in the field.  In late July 2002, the owners of the private-sector company Lima Tours, linked with tourism, provided Caral-Supe Archaeological Project with new premises in downtown Lima, where they were able to relocate and accommodate the research materials.

[1] “The Sacred City of Caral-Supe at the Dawn of Civilization in Peru”

Caral-Supe Special Archaeological Project attached to the National Institute of Culture

Instituto Nacional de Cultura - INC

The difficulties with San Marcos University made it necessary to negotiate with the Peruvian Government a way for the funds awarded to the Caral-Supe Archaeological Project to be channeled through the budget of the National Institute of Culture.  In February 2003, the Government issued Supreme Decree 003-2003-ED, creating the Caral-Supe Special Archaeological Project based on the Caral-Supe Archaeological Project.  It was made responsible for the value enhancement of the settlements of the Caral civilization, with full autonomy in its scientific, administrative, and financial management; and it was attached to the National Institute of Culture as Executing Unit 003.

With this new support, it was possible to intensify the value enhancement activities in the sites of Caral, Chupacigarro, Miraya, and Lurihuasi, and to produce publications about the research carried out to date, for example the book: La Ciudad Sagrada de Caral-Supe; los orígenes de la civilización andina y la formación del Estado prístino en el antiguo Perú (“The Sacred City of Caral-Supe: the Origins of the Andean Civilization and the Formation of the Pristine State in Ancient Peru”).

However, by that time it had already become apparent that the value enhancement of the archaeological heritage needed to be done with a comprehensive approach, to link it with the development of a social and natural environment in keeping with the importance of the archaeological sites.  Although they were so near to the city of Lima, and the valley had largely conserved its landscape features, the people living in Supe Valley showed indices of poverty and a total lack of basic services.  To a lesser degree, this was also true of the province of Barranca, to which a part of Supe Valley belongs, where the indices of social and economic development were also low.  In view of this situation, in 2004 Dr. Shady requested the support of the National COPESCO Plan of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism to finance the preparation of a Master Plan to ensure the comprehensive and sustainable development of Supe and its area of influence.   The Caral-Supe Special Archaeological Project thus headed a multidisciplinary team to give shape to the Master Plan, on the premise that the rich archaeological heritage of the valley – borne out by Caral, the first Andean and American civilization – could become a motor to give impulse to the social and economic development of the population of Supe and its area of influence.  A series of participatory workshops were conducted for the representatives and social actors of the area in question.

Once it had been completed, in May 2005, the Master Plan was approved by the National Institute of Culture with its Regulation “Resolución Directoral Nacional 688/INC”; and the Caral-Supe Special Archaeological Project took on the promotion and planning of activities for social and economic development, following the lines of action defined in the Plan.

Meanwhile, with the support of the Finnish Embassy and the German Embassy, a reception area was implemented for visitors to the Sacred City of Caral, which was beginning to attract greater public attention; and significant progress was made in the physical and legal “cleaning up” of the archaeological site.  The first version of the Site Management Plan was also drawn up; and negotiations were started for the inclusion of the Sacred City of Caral on the Indicative List of the UNESCO World Heritage Center.

In mid-2005, once again with the support of the National COPESCO Plan, and with the participation of the Municipality of Supe Puerto, work started on the recovery of the archaeological site of Áspero, contemporary with the Sacred City of Caral, 500 meters from the sea, which for the past 30 years had been turned into a municipal garbage dump, and which several researchers regarded as lost.  However, as the clearing of the place progressed, there began to be revealed the true dimension of a settlement that had played a crucial role in the formation of the Caral civilization, whose economy was based on the trading of cotton produced in the valleys for marine products collected by the dwellers of the coastal settlements.

Following an evaluation of the activities carried out by the institution, in January 2006 the Directorate General for Public Sector Multi-Year Programming (DGPM) of the Ministry of Economy and Finance issued its communication 173-2006-EF/68.01, in which it indicated that the archaeological activities being carried out by the Caral-Supe Special Archaeological Project did not constitute a Project since they were of a permanent nature.

In March 2006, Peruvian Congress promulgated Law 28690, which ratified Supreme Decree 003-2003-ED that had created the Caral-Supe Special Archaeological Project, and extended the “Project” functions by making it responsible for the conduction and management of the execution of the Master Plan for the comprehensive and sustainable development of Supe and Barranca, in order that the value enhancement of the archaeological heritage might be carried out in a context of integrated development of the valley.

The economic support of the National COPESCO Plan made it possible for three public investment project profiles to be approved: these were designed to reinforce the value enhancement of the archaeological settlements of Áspero, Miraya, and Lurihuasi, which had begun some years earlier.

At the end of 2006, the physical and legal clearing up of the Sacred City of Caral was completed, and the land was transferred by the Superintendence of National Goods to the National Institute of Culture / Caral-Supe Special Archaeological Project, to work on the value enhancement of the archaeological heritage.

In 2007, in response to a request from the Mayor of Végueta, in the province of Huaura, we began the value enhancement of the archaeological settlement of Vichama, a site that was threatened by urban expansion.

In 2008, time was spent consolidating the teams in research and preservation in the archaeological settlements.  Particular attention was given to the evaluation made that year by UNESCO, through the staff of ICOMOS International, with regard to the application sent in requesting that the Sacred City of Caral be declared a World Heritage Site.   Also, the Management Plan of the Sacred City of Caral was reviewed and updated.

In 2009, the Ministry of Economy and Finance revised the institution’s budget assignation, so that instead of being considered a Project, the institution was now treated as an institution with permanent activities, thereby ensuring its continuity.

In the early months of the year, attention was given to the requirements made by the ICOMOS International officials regarding specific aspects of the nomination of the Sacred City of Caral. The result was that, on June 30, 2009, the Sacred City of Caral was included by UNESCO on the World Heritage List.  With the achievement of this recognition, we made a significant contribution to the nation, in terms of the revaluation of the history of its origins, the protection of an archaeological heritage of the utmost importance, and the consolidation of a first class tourist destination that would contribute to the country’s economy.

In October 2009, the Caral-Supe Special Archaeological Project won a special edition of the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation Contest, with a proposal for the preservation of the Sacred City of Caral. The amount of the award, USD 800 thousand, was used totally, as agreed upon, to reinforce the preservation activities at the site, and to publicize the knowledge gained there to date.

Caral Archaeological Zone- Executing Unit 003, Ministry of Culture

Oficina Zona Arqueológica Caral

In 2009, to ensure that expenditure was reported in the appropriate budget category, the National Directorate of Public Budget (DNPP) of the Ministry of Economy and Finance issued its communication number 074-2009-EF/76.12, stipulating that the National Institute of Culture should redirect its resources allocated for 2010 to the Caral-Supe Special Archaeological Project, from the budget category of capital expenditure to that of current expenditure.  This was, in effect, a formal recognition of the permanent nature of the institution.

With Law 29565, in July 2010, the Ministry of Culture was created. To prevent any duplication and overlapping of functions with the National Institute of Culture, Supreme Decree 001-2010-MC merged them both and brought the Institute into the Ministry of Culture.  Consequently, the Caral-Supe Special Archaeological Project, henceforth called Caral Archaeological Zone, was transferred to the Ministry of Culture, retaining its name of Executing Unit 003 for budget purposes, and also retaining its autonomy in scientific, administrative, and financial management.  With Emergency Decree 066-2010, resources were transferred to the Ministry of Culture and, by extension, to Caral Archaeological Zone.

Since then, Caral Archaeological Zone has strengthened its institutional structure and it has been ceaselessly performing the activities that it has carried out for years on the archaeological heritage of Caral civilization: value enhancement with a comprehensive vision, which attends with the same intensity and importance the research, preservation, and dissemination of the values of the Caral civilization in eleven settlements (Caral, Chupacigarro, Miraya, Lurihuasi, Allpacoto, Era de Pando, Pueblo Nuevo, El Molino, Piedra Parada, Áspero, and Vichama); which works in the linking of the heritage with present-day society; and which regards the archaeological heritage as a central driving force for development.  In addition, Caral Archaeological Zone is leading the activities defined in the Master Plan to promote an integrated development of Supe and its area of influence, and to achieve the social and economic progress of the local population, with repercussion in the society of the region and the whole country.

To sum up, Caral Archaeological Zone is the institutional frame for the work that has been carried out for years by a multidisciplinary team headed by Dr. Ruth Shady, dedicated to the value enhancement of the archaeological heritage of the Caral civilization, the earliest Peruvian and American civilization, with a comprehensive approach, which includes the work in eleven archaeological settlements, and the social and economic development of the Peruvian population.