Peru was the cradle of ancient civilizations which began to develop more than ten thousand years ago, on its territory’s cold highland plains.
Caral was the culmination of Peru’s first cultural process, known as the Initial Period, and its main characteristics are the building of mud brick stepped temples, circular plazas and small villages surrounding administrative and ceremonial centers. Major archaeological sites such as Sechin, on the Ancash coast, and the Kotosh Temple of the Crossed Hands, in Huanuco, date from this period.
Thousands of years later, Chavin culture emerged in the north-central Andes, in the present-day region of Ancash.
Around 700 BC, on the central coast, another fascinating culture emerged: Paracas, the first major desert society. The people of Paracas were skilled weavers –their large-scale textiles with intricate designs have been admired throughout the world- and their burial practices are particularly unique.
Following this first phase of development, what we now acknowledge as the first regional empire emerged, around 550 AD. Known as Wari, and a continuation of the Peruvian and Bolivian high plains Tiahuanaco culture, this society dominated a vast territory across much of the area that would later become the Inca empire of Tahuantinsuyo. It was the Wari who first began to lay out the great pre-Hispanic highway network and establish the social and territorial administrative system that would eventually be inherited by the Incas of Cusco.
With the disappearance of Wari, around 1 200 AD, the Late Intermediate period began, in the form of a second wave of regional cultural developments, among which the Chimu are particularly worthy of note, as the builders of Chan Chan, the world’s largest mud brick city.
The Chachapoyas also emerged at this time, the so-called “people of the clouds”, who occupied the luxuriant cloud forests of the Amazonas region, where they built extraordinary cities and mausoleums carved into sheer cliffs.