Ancient Civilizations of Peru


The ancient civilization of Peru is characterized by various changes that occurred in the Andean culture several years ago. These changes resulted in the development of a strong and stable culture that managed to survive for many years. It is believed that the different aspects of this culture were brought to South America by the early inhabitants of the region. This paper discusses the Clovis First hypothesis about the original inhabitants of the Americas. It also discusses the key processes that were involved in the archaic civilization of the Central Andean culture between the Middle Preceramic period and the Early Horizon period.

Part 1: Clovis First

The Clovis First refers to a hypothesis held by archeologists that the people who are associated with the ancient Clovis culture are the original inhabitants of America. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that there is lack of human inhabitation evidence in the region during the pre-Clovis era. According to the proponents of the Clovis First, it is believed that the first inhabitants to the Americas came from among the people of Siberia who hunted big game during the Upper Palaeolithic period. These people passed through the Bering land-Bridge and they got their way into the ice-free corridor that is located in North America (Collins 904). This happened towards the end of the end of the geological epoch known as Pleistocene. In North America, the first humans settled in modern-day western Canada. The retreatment of the glaciers made life at this region easy. From Western Canada, the people moved to other regions of North America, including the present-day Mexico and Canada.

From a South American and a Central Andean perspective, it is argued that the Clovis people moved down from North America until they reached the far end of South America. It is believed that the downward movement of these people was facilitated by the desire to pursue mammoths (Haynes 44). These animals were their favorite game. They settled in the diverse regions. As time went by, they multiplied and their population grew steadily. They soon populated most parts of the Southern hemisphere. As far as the Clovis interpretation is concerned, the first people to live in South America were able to adapt to any kind of environment. As noted earlier, these people were skilled hunters who survived on big game. As a result, they were successful in many of their activities and they could easily settle in this region. South America had large game during the ancient periods. It is believed that it is the activities of the first inhabitants that led to the destruction of the region’s megafauna of the Pleistocene epoch.

The Clovis culture acquired its name from the artifacts that have been collected at Clovis, New Mexico. The first true set of these tools were excavated in the year 1932. One of the earliest pieces of evidence that have been collected from this region includes a skeleton of a huge mammoth having spear-points on the ribs (Haas, Pozorski and Pozorski 131). This evidence was found in the year 1926. A cowboy at Fosom, in New Mexico, collected it. Other sites with the remains of the Clovis culture have been found throughout Mexico, United States, and various parts of Central America. Since they are considered as the first people to live in the New World, the Clovis people are sometimes referred to as Paleo-Indians. Most archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians regard them as the ancestors of many of the indigenous cultures of both South and North America.

Archaeological evidence has shown that the Clovis culture survived for about 11,200 to 10,600 years ago. It is believed that this culture lasted for that long as a result of the good adaptive skills of the Clovis people. However, archaeologists have pointed out that the Clovis people vanished abruptly around 10,500 years ago. It has been suggested that the vanishing was facilitated by the extinction of the big game that these people hunted (Collins 906). This eventually caused environmental collapse and heir starvation. The Clovis First theory has bee challenged by other archaeological evidences. For instance, some archaeologists have pointed out that pre-Clovis types of human occupations are available in America. Other archaeologists have dated the Clovis remains using a shorter period than the standard time that is acceptable in the archaeological world. Despite these challenging perspectives, there is enough evidence to show that the Clovis first were the first to live in the Americas. Therefore, these people can be said to be the original inhabitants of he New World.

Part 2: Archaic Civilization in the Central Andes

Archaic civilization in Central Andes occurred through local processes. The processes included changes in the natural environment, human modification of the environment, and emergence of state governments and city life. Many of the significant changes took place between the Middle Preceramic period and the Early Horizon Period.

Middle Preceramic (7000-3000 BCE)

The Early Preceramic period was characterized by the arrival of people in the various regions of South America. These people came from different parts of the world. During the Middle Preceramic era, people in the new world were nomadic. They lived in small groups of between 25 and 30 people. The people gathered wild fruits and hunted various wild animals (Aldenderfer 133). Archaeologists have pointed out that people who lived during this period embraced the gender-based division of labor. While women collected wild fruits, men hunted wild animals. Apart from the hunting and gathering activities, fishing also took place among the people who lived in the coastal regions of Peru. In this case, both sexes were involved in fishing.

According to the archaeological records, climate change occurred during the Middle Preceramic period. Changes in the oceanic currents helped to increase marine resources (Sandweiss and Richardson 97). As a result, people found it necessary to move and live in the coastal regions. Since there were sufficient food resources in these regions, there was a significant population increase. Due to the rapid population growth, the nomadic life son became difficult. There was need for people to settle down and try other means of life. Due to this factor, the people of the Middle Preceramic era started building larger and permanent houses that would accommodate their large families.

As the people started settling at one place, they tried to domesticate some plants and animals. For instance, along the coastal valleys, cotton and gourds were domesticated due to their importance in the fishing industry (Dillehay and Piperno 973). Fishing nets were made from the cotton, while net floats were made from the gourds. Just like the Early Preceramic period, the Middle Preceramic period was characterized by lack of ceramics. People used to prepare their meals by placing them on hot stones. It is also important to note that some form of trade occurred between people who lived in the Andean region and those who lived in the Amazon area. This can be evidenced by the remains of coca leaves and feathers of rainforest birds. These important trade items were used for religious rituals.

Late Preceramic (3000-1800 BCE)

The remains of mangrove mollusks and stone tools in the far north of Peru show that the climate of the Late Preceramic Period was wetter than it is now. This was around c.5000 BC. Archaeological evidence of well polished mortars and axes in this region shows that grasslands and forests were exploited for seeds and other purposes (Isbell 1102). People in the northern and central coastal regions cultivated chill peppers, cotton, and beans. During the winter, these people camped on lomas. Lomas were strips of coastal vegetation that were regularly watered by fog. In the lomas, deer, large snails, and wild seeds were collected. During the summer, the lomas used to dry up and people normally moved to camp on shores. Here, they did fishing and hunted sea mammals.

Some of the ancient architectural centers in Peru are located along the coast. These centers played important roles in the lives of the Andeans. One of such centers was Caral. Caral is a center is found at the Supe Valley, a few kilometers from Pacific shore. According to the Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady suggests, state government and city life developed at Caral. This may be true. Caral has a large central plaza and several open circular patios (Solis 2). This shows that public meetings and events were recurrent at the center. Like other coastal cities, Cara embraced a simple form of technology during the Late Preceramic era. There were no pottery, metal or specialized tools.

Despite their significance, the coastal Late Preceramic centers were abandoned following the introduction of various types of ceramics. For instance, in Norte Chico, Supe and Huaura was deserted some 3825 years ago (Quilter 83). Various factors contributed to the abandonment. Archaeological evidence shows that as from c.2500 BC, the lomas started shrinking. This led to the abandonment of winter camps. People started preferring permanent villages. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and El Nino also changed marine resources and the nature of the landscape. This harmed the economic system upon which the people who lived in the Late Preceramic Period depended.

Initial Period (1800-800 BCE)

During the Initial Period, most people had abandoned the centers in the coastal valleys. They started constructing new centers away from the shores. These people irrigated the land and intensified the efforts of domesticating plants (Burger 1084). As the agricultural crops started to take the central stage, fishing and hunting along the coastal shores were abandoned. It became necessary for people to produce pots for the purpose of cooking, serving, and storing the different foodstuffs that were cultivated. Some of the commonly cultivated crops during the Initial Period included beans and potatoes (Aldenderfer 134). It is also during this period that crops such as peanuts and cassava appeared for the first time.

Constructing and maintaining the irrigation canals that dominated the Initial Period required cooperation. This opened the way for the development of central leadership and collective labor patterns (Burger 1084). Organized leadership and labor led to population growth. Despite this, it is important to note that sedentary life and agricultural diets did little to improve the wellbeing of the people who lived in the Initial period. It has been established that the health status of the farmers who lived during this era was worse than of the Preceramic people. In terms of sociopolitical organization, people in the initial period lived in simple autonomous societies (Burger 1088). Leaders in these societies had no power to use physical coercion. They relied on threats from supernatural sanctions.

The Initial Period was also an innovation era. For instance, looping and twinning were replaced in the textile industry. Metalwork also emerged during this period. People who lived during this period worked on copper, gold, and other metals (Isbell and Silverman 108). A good number of excavated burial grounds show that socioeconomic inequality was common during the Initial Period. This is portrayed through the foods that different people of this time ate and how they dressed. Despite its significance, the Initial Period ended with the abandonment of the large public centers that were located in the north and central coastal regions of Peru. One of the main factors that have been cited for the abandonment includes El Nino rains. These rains destroyed the agricultural canals.

Early Horizon (800-50 BCE)

By the beginning of the Early Horizon era, Andean civilization had become fully developed. Unlike other civilizations in various parts o the world, the Andean one was heterogeneous in terms of cultural aspects. One o the centers that achieved this heterogeneity was Chavin de Huantar. Chavin de Huantar is a highland center that had started during the Initial Period. According to anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, the art of this city is the greatest form of prehistoric art styles in South America (Rick 9). It is considered to be the product of the work of specialists who had an intention to come up with artistic styles that communicated the ideologies of the people who lived in Chavin de Huantar.

The Early Horizon was characterized by various architectural styles. Many of these styles were brought by the highlanders who came to live in the coastal valleys. This marked the unification of the highlands and coastal valleys into one polity. Ceramics continued to play an important role in the lives of the people who lived during the Early Horizon era. They cooked their food using pots. New plants and animals were also domesticated. This helped to solve the problem of food insecurity that was common in the early periods (Quilter 142). Religion as well continued to influence the lives of the Early Horizon people. Archaeological evidence shows that these people worshiped the cat, birds, and other animals. This evidence is widespread in Chavin de Huantar and the surrounding areas.

Increased long distance trade distinguished the Early Horizon from the early eras. Obsidian from Ayacucho highlands was traded with cinnabar from Huancavelica highlands (Burger 1092). Long distance trade helped to widen economic and social relations between the people who lived during this era. It is during this period that an acute socioeconomic stratification occurred. There is rich evidence in many tombs in both Peruvian highlands and coastal regions. Painted and finely woven textiles and advanced metal work emerged during the Early Horizon period (Polia 167). These changes led to the transformation of the existing civic and ceremonial centers into large settlements. Like the early periods, the Early Horizon had to be abandoned as time went by. This opened the way for new ceramic and architectural styles.


The Clovis First hypothesis is based on the understanding that the people who embraced the Clovis culture were the first people to live in the Americas. These people got their way into South America and they played an important role in the development of the Andean culture. At first, the people lived as nomads. They hunted and collected wild food. Later on, these people domesticated plants and animals. They also started using pots to cook and serve their foods. Therefore, the ancient civilization in Peru has a long history, and it had everything that it needs for survival for many years.





Works Cited:

Aldenderfer, Mark S. “High Elevation Foraging Societies,” In Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn. The Cambridge World Prehistory Volume 2: East Asia and the Americas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Burger, Richard L. “The Development of Early Peruvian Civilization (2600-300 BCE),” In Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn. The Cambridge World Prehistory Volume 2: East Asia and the Americas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Collins, Michael B. “Initial Peopling of the Americas: Context, Findings, and Issues,” In Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn. The Cambridge World Prehistory Volume 2: East Asia and the Americas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 2014.

Dillehay, Tom D. & Dolores, Piperno. “Agricultural Origins and Social Implications in South America,” In Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn. The Cambridge World Prehistory Volume 2: East Asia and the Americas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 2014.

Haas, Jonathan, Shelia G. Pozorski, and Thomas G. Pozorski. The Origins and Development of the Andean State. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.

Haynes, Gary. The Early Settlement of North America: The Clovis Era. Cambridge [u.a.: Cambridge Univ. Pr, 2005. Print.

Isbell, William H, and Helaine Silverman. Andean Archaeology Iii: North and South. New York: Springer, 2008. Print.

Isbell, William H. “Styles and Identities in the Central Andes: The Early Intermediate Period and Middle Horizon,” In Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn. The Cambridge World Prehistory Volume 2: East Asia and the Americas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, , 2014.

Polia, Mario, and A B. A. Milan. Peru: An Ancient Andean Civilization. Vercelli, Italy: White Star, 2013. Print.

Quilter, Jeffrey. The Ancient Central Andes. London: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Rick, John W. Context, Construction, and Ritual in the Development of Authority at Chavin de Huantar. Source Provided.

Sandweiss, Daniel H. & James B. Richardson. “Central Andean Environments,” In Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn. The Cambridge World Prehistory Volume 2: East Asia and the Americas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, , 2014.

Solis, Ruth S. America’s First City? The Case of Late Archaic Caral. Source Provided.


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