The North Coast and Northern Highlands Feature

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Which Culture Was That Again?

It's a common question after a few days of exploring the extensive archaeological sites in the north. So many different civilizations were emerging, overlapping, and converging, that it can be difficult to keep track of them all.

Chavín: One of the earliest major cultures in northern Peru was the cat-worshipping Chavín. The Chavín empire stretched through much of Peru's northern highlands and along the northern and central coasts. Artifacts dating back to 850 BC tell us that the Chavín people were excellent artisans, and their pottery, with its florid, compact style, can be seen in the museums of Trujillo and Lima.

Moche: About 500 years later, a highly advanced civilization called the Moche emerged. It was their carefully planned irrigation systems, still in use today, that turned the desert into productive agricultural land. Their fine ceramics and large Moche pyramids, still standing near present-day Trujillo and Chiclayo, give us insight about their architectural advances and daily lives. Such oddities as dragon motifs are perhaps a testament to commerce and intercultural exchange between South America and Asia. Despite voracious huaqueros, or looters, the tomb of the Lord of Sipán, discovered in 1987, was intact and untouched, revealing more about their complex culture.

Chimú to Inca: The Chimú came on the scene about AD 850. That civilization continued to conquer and expand until around 1470, when it, like most others in the area, was assimilated by the huge Inca empire. The awe-inspiring city of Chán Chán, built by the Chimú, sits near present-day Trujillo. Although the Inca center of power lay farther south in the Cusco–Machu Picchu area, its cultural influence stretched far beyond the northern borders of Peru and it was near present-day Tumbes that Pizarro, the Spanish pig farmer–turned-conquistador, first caught site of the glory of the Inca empire.

Updated: 06-2013

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