An Interview with Dr. Ruth Shady
The Project Director of research at Caral, Peru, discusses her perspectives on this enormous city built at the same time as the pyramids in Egypt.
On 27 April 2001 came the stunning announcement in the journal Science that the emergence of urban life and complex agriculture in the New World occurred nearly a millennium earlier than previously believed (Shady Solis et al. 2001). Radiocarbon dates from the ancient city of Caral, in the Supe Valley of Peru 23 km from the coast, show that monumental architecture there was under construction as early as 2627 B.C. and until about 2000 B.C., even before ceramics and maize were introduced to the region. (By comparison, the Great Pyramid of Khufu in Egypt was built between 2600 and 2480 B.C.)
The construction of Caral seems to be associated with the advent of irrigation agriculture in the Supe Valley and is built adjacent to the headgate of the main irrigation canal that serves farmers there today. It seems likely that the ancient inhabitants of the Supe Valley expanded upriver from the coast, developed agriculture (involving squash, beans, guava, and cotton) to support a growing population, and in the process created the complex sociopolitical organization required to build an irrigation system, the grand city of Caral, and smaller urban centers in the region. Fish bones and mollusk shells at Caral show an active trade in foodstuffs between coastal and interior inhabitants and suggest that the civilization depended on both agriculture and fishing.
About Dr. Ruth Shady:
Dr. Ruth Shady of the Museum of Archaeology at the National University of San Marcos, Lima, Peru, is Project Director for ongoing research at Caral. She is working closely on this project, in the field and in analysis and publications, with the Field Museum, represented by Dr. Jonathan Haas. Dr. Shady graciously agreed to share her perspectives on the work her team is doing at Caral in a telephone interview with Rick Pettigrew, which took place on 30 July 2001. Carla Guerron-Montero, Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Oregon served as interpreter for the interview, which is available here in English and Spanish. Our thanks go to Dr. Shady for taking the time to speak with us.
Proyecto Arqueológico Norte Chico (Field Museum)
Peru Holds Oldest New World City (Science News)
Pre-Columbian Civilizations (Encyclopedia Britannica)
South America’s Top UNESCO World Heritage Sites (About.com)
Understanding Chavin and the Origins of Andean Civilization (James Q. Jacobs)
Archaeology Research in Peru (Bruce Owen)
Discover Archaeology (Web Links on South America)