First South American Civilisation Wiped Out by Earthquake

Sunrise over Caral, PeruPhoto:
Image: Nestor Paredes

About 3,800 years ago, residents of Supe Valley in Peru’s coastal desert, 120 miles north of Lima, had just created a flourishing society complete with tall pyramids (thousands of years before the Maya). They were fishing and growing cotton and vegetables, when disaster struck and the forces of nature wiped them out. Just like that. Earthquakes coupled with heavy rains destroyed their farmland and fishing grounds, and despite efforts to rebuild it 200 years later, the civilization never regained its splendour and importance.

Caral by night, PeruPhoto:
Image: mavrev

Caral, about 12 miles inland, was the best known city with a 100-foot tall pyramid called Piramide Mayor. The city was discovered by archeologists in 1905 but was only dated properly in 2001, when radiocarbon dating of reed fibers from woven bags provided clues. The astonishing find – that this was a civilization started as early as 2600 BC – completely changed scientists’ assumptions about the development of early Andean civilization. Archaeologist Ruth Shady Solis of Lima’s Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos even believes that Caral is a potential “mother city” in the Americas.

Caral, Peru, by dayPhoto:
Image: Antonio Paraggi

The downfall of this powerful civilization was its location. The Supe valley is where the Nazca Plate and the South American Plate crash. When the big one hit, this earthquake-prone region was also hit by mudslides, which clogged the rivers. This coincided with heavy rainfall brought on by a strong El Niño, thus forming a 60-mile-long ocean ridge, which sealed off coastal bays. These filled with sand and therefore eliminated the Supe society’s source of food.

Tough luck? Says archeologist Daniel H. Sandweiss of the University of Maine: “By not being able to look decades ahead, they [the inhabitants of Supe valley] were not able to cope with it.” With the technology of the time, it was near impossible. Sometimes, when it rains it just pours.

Source: 1, 2, 3

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