In 1994, archaeologist Ruth Shady Solis stumbled on a strange mound in Peru’s grey lunar desert.

Today, a quarter-century later, the city beneath that mound, Caral, has become one of the keys to understanding humankind’s leap from barbarism to civilisation.

Caral is a prehistoric city founded around 3000 BC in the Supe River valley, some three hours north of Lima. It’s a place of scant aesthetic distinction: parched brown sand flats, a few crumbling pyramids, and little else. Nor is much known of the people who built it, who lack even an agreed-upon name. Yet Caral’s importance is incalculable, for it’s one of only a handful of places on the planet where humans crossed what archaeologists call ‘the great divide’ — where civilisation spontaneously arose out of its opposite.

Historical Peru

How to visit Peru's famous ruins and hidden gems

Peru is one of the most archaeologically-rich countries on earth, and not just because of its blockbuster site, Machu Picchu. Indeed, the Inca of Machu Picchu fame were relative newcomers to pre-Columbian Peru; the final phase of a long series of human settlement that dates back to 9,000 BC – when civilisation in the so-called “old world” was just getting started. Remnants of these ancient cultures are scattered across the country, many of which are easily accessible for casual more

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