4,500-Year-Old Burial Suggests Norte Chico People of Peru Practiced Gender Equality
Thousands of years ago, people of the Norte Chico civilization (also known as Caral/ Caral-Supe) lived near the coast of Peru, apparently never making war but rather spending much of their time making music, studying the night sky, practicing religion, and living in harmony with nature.
And now there comes evidence in the form of a mummified woman’s remains that the people may have practiced equality between men and women.
It may sound like a politically correct rendering of the life of the noble native in the Americas, but scientists have found no evidence of warfare in this advanced 5,000-year-old nation.
A representation of the woman’s burial. (Ministry of Culture of Peru)
Archaeologists recently exhumed the mummified remains of a Peruvian woman buried about 4,500 years ago with eight flutes made of animal bones and other grave goods that point to her noble and equal status to male counterparts.
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The woman, around age 40 at death, was buried in Aspero, a fishing town of the Caral civilization—which Andina.com calls “the oldest social organization in the Americas” in an article about the discovery of the mummy.
The town of Aspero is near the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the Supe River. The people of Aspero lived on fish, shellfish, and sea mammals. In their dwellings and garbage heaps archaeologists have found nets and hooks. They also grew peanuts, guayaba, pacae, achira, squash, beans, avocados, and sweet potatoes.
The way the woman was buried and her grave goods, including a pot with vegetable fragments and seeds, a mollusk necklace and pendant, and four brooches with bird and monkey motifs, indicate that she was equal to the men in her society, Andina.com says. The carvings show both coastal and jungle animals, which also indicates contact between Aspero and the Supe cities further inland, including the capital of Caral.
The carvings show both coastal and jungle animals. (ANDINA)
Dr. Ruth Shady, the lead archaeologist, says the woman’s remains are important in understanding the social dynamics of the prehistoric civilization. “The place and the way she was buried revealed the high rank she held 4,500 years ago. This find shows evidence of gender equality, that is, both women and men were able to play leading roles and attain high social status more than 1,000 years ago.”
- The 5,000-year-old Pyramid City of Caral
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It is widely taught in the field of ancient history that Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and India, gave rise to the first civilizations of humanity. However, few are aware that at the same time, and in some cases before some of these societies emerged, the Norte Chico civilization existed in Supe, Peru – the first known civilization of the Americas, Ancient Origins reported in 2014.
Their capital was the sacred city of Caral – a 5,000-year-old metropolis complete with complex agricultural practices, rich culture, and monumental architecture, including six large pyramidal structures, stone and earthen platform mounds, temples, amphitheatre, sunken circular plazas, and residential areas. Caral, is 14 miles (22 kilometers) inland from Aspero.
The 626-hectare (1,550-acre) city of Caral-Supe was founded around 3000 BC on a dry terrace overlooking the Supe River Valley in the Andes Mountains near the western coast of Peru. No signs of war or violence have been found in the city. In addition, the green valley and its fertile spaces were left uninhabited. Instead the people lived on the less ecologically sensitive desert terrace nearby.
Archaeologists say the city is the probable birthplace of the Quechua language, and thus its influence extended to Macchu Pichu and the Nazca geoglyphs.
Two pyramids in Caral, Peru. (CC BY 3.0)
Although the inhabitants of Caral lacked ceramics and apparently had limited art, they built huge monuments, including pyramids, plazas, amphitheatres, temples, and residential areas, and had extensive agriculture. They ate a varied diet, developed the use of textiles, used a complex system for calculating and recording, built water supply, and developed an intricate irrigation system. They traded widely with neighboring societies, reaching at least as far as the Amazon jungle, as evidenced by carvings of monkeys.
While the city of Caral has monumental architecture, Aspero had it too, including two public buildings that are among the oldest in the Americas—Huaca del los Sacrificios and Huaca de los Idolos. Huaca in the ancient languages of South American means sacredness or holiness and was thought by Spanish people in the New World to mean burial place.
Huaca de los Idolos, Aspero, Peru. (CC BY NC SA 3.0)
To the ancient Incas (who came later than the Supe people) and the modern Aymara and Quechua huaca or wak’a refers to holy rituals, a sacred object, or the disposition of the soul after a person died.
By Mark Miller