We do not know for sure how far back we can trace the history of mankind in Peru as new findings are pushing back in the very far past the start of human inhabitation in these lands. Up until recently, we only thought that human civil life had started around 7000 years ago.....  Chilca was inhabited about 4000 BC and the other two sites about 2000 BC. The inhabitants fished with nets or with bone hooks and collected seafood such as crabs and sea urchins. Various crops were cultivated, including cotton which appeared early (about 3000 BC) as well as chilli peppers, beans' squashes and, about 1400 BC, corn. The cotton was used to make clothing, mainly with the simple techniques of twining and later by weaving. 

Roughly contemporary with these coastal settlements was the enigmatic site of Kotosh near Huanuco - one of the earliest ruins in highland Peru. Little is known about the people who lived here, but their buildings were the most developed for that period, and pottery fragments found here predate by several hundred years those found in other parts of Peru. 

From around 1250 BC to 850 BC there are remains in the Viru Valley and Guanape area, about 50 km south of Trujillo on the north coast which show that, during this time, ceramics developed from rude undecorated pots to sculpted, incised and simply colored pots of high quality. Weaving, fishing and horticulture also unproved and simple funerary offerings have been found. After these early time we start having a better knowledge of the early inhabitants of Peru.

The coastal strip around 4000 BC was wetter than today's desert and a number of small settlements were established, thus changing the status of the people from nomadic hunters and gatherers to settled agriculturalists and fishermen. Several of these settlements have been excavated, with the garbage mounds yielding the best information about life at that time. Some of the best known sites are Huaca Prieta in the Chicama Valley near Trujillo, Chilca and Asia, south of Lima. The people lived in primitive one-room dwellings, lined with stone in Huaca Prieta, or they had branch or reed huts as in Asia. Ceramics and metalwork were still unknown although jewelry made of bone and shell was used.


This period is named after the site of Chavin de Huantar, 40 Km east of Huaraz in the Department of Ancash. It is also known as the middle formative period and lasted from about 850 BC until 300 BC. It is termed a "horizon" because its artistic and religious influences can be seen in several contemporary cultures, including the Cupisnique ceramics of the Lambayeque region (north of Trujillo) and the early pottery of Paracas Cavernas (south of Lima). Thus the Chavin influence was felt in a huge area covering most of the northern two-thirds of Peru's highlands and coast. 

Around 300 BC the Chavin style suddenly and inexplicably disappeared and there was little unity in the cultures found in Peru during the next 500 years. Although none of these cultures were individually outstanding or widespread, several were locally important. The best known are the Salinar culture of the Chicama Valley area near Trujillo and the Paracas Necropolis south of Lima. Salinar ceramics show advanced firing techniques, whilst the textiles of the Paracas Necropolis are markedly improved and different from the earlier Paracas Cavernas: these textiles are considered the finest pre-Columbian textiles to have been produced anywhere in the Americas. Most importantly, this period represents the greatest early development in weaving, pottery, agriculture, religion and architecture - in a word, culture. Many archaeologists see the Chavin Horizon as the most important cultural development of pre-Columbian Peru. The salient feature of the Chavin influence is the repeated representation of a stylized jaguar, hence the Chavin is often termed a jaguar-worshipping cult.


This period lasted from about 100 AD to 700 AD and, as its name suggests, was not marked by any single unifying horizon but by local development in several regions. Pottery, metalwork and weaving reached a pinnacle of technological development throughout Peru and hence this period is often referred to as either the Florescent or Classic. Two distinct cultures of this period are particularly noted for their exceptional pottery - the Moche from the Trujillo area and the Nazca people from the south coast. These cultures recorded their ways of life in intricate detail on their ceramics and so provide archaeologists with an invaluable reference tool. Many of Peru’s main museums have good collections of Nazca and Moche pottery. 

Soon after we find the signs of a new culture in the highland city of Wari (Huari), about 25 km north of Ayacacho. Wari was the capital of the first expansionist empire known in the Andes. Unlike the earlier Chavin Horizon, expansion was not limited to the diffusion of artistic and religious influence. The Wari were vigorous military conquerors who built and maintained important outposts throughout much of Peru. These included Pikillacta near Cuzco, Cajamarquilla near Lima, Wilcahualn near Huaraz, Wariwillka near Huancayo, Wiracochapampa near Huamachuco and Los Paredones near Cajamarca. The Wari culture was the first strongly militaristic and urban culture of Peru. Also, it was influenced by the Tiahuanaco religion from the Lake Titicaca region.

The Wari attempted to subdue the cultures they conquered by enforcing their own values and suppressing local oral traditions and regional self-expression. The Moche and Nazca cultures left some interesting sites which are worth visiting: the Moche built massive pyramids such as the Temples of the Sun & Moon near Trujillo and the Nazca made their enigmatic giant petroglyphs in the desert. These last are known as the Nazca Lines and are best appreciated from the air in one of the many overflights in small airplanes available in the town of Nazca. Thus from about 700 AD to 1100 AD, Wari influence is noted in the art, technology and architecture of most areas in Peru. 

More significantly, from an archaeologist's point of view, any local oral traditions which may have existed were forbidden by the conquerors and slowly forgotten. With no written language and no oral traditions, archaeologists must rely entirely on the examination of excavated artifacts to gain an idea of what life was like in the early Peruvian cultures. The Wari too in their turn were overthrown and their culture obliterated.


These separate regional states thrived for the next 400 years, the best known being the Chimu kingdom in the Trujillo area. Its capital was the huge adobe city of Chan Chan which is often referred to as the largest adobe city in the world. Roughly contemporary with the Chimu was the Chachapoyas culture of the Utcubamba River basin in the Department of Amazonas. Its people built Kuelap, one of the most mysterious of the highland ruins. 

Also contemporary with the Chimu were the Chancay people from the Chancay Valley just north of Lima. The best collection of Chancay artefacts is at the excellent Amano Museum in Lima. Further south was the Ica-Chincha culture whose artifacts can be seen in the Ica Regional Museum. There were also several small altiplano tribes who lived near Lake Titicaca and were frequently at war with one another. They left impressive, circular funerary towers dotting the bleak landscape - the best are to be seen at Sillustani. 

There were also the Chanka who lived in the Ayacucho-Apurfmac area and, of course, there was the kingdom of Cuzco which was the predecessor of the greatest pre-Columbian empire on the continent. Because of their cultural dominance and oppression, it is not surprising that the Wari were generally not welcomed, despite their improvements in urban development and organization.  By about 1100 AD they had been overthrown, not by a new conquering force but by individual groups in their local areas. 


The Inca Empire, for all its greatness, existed for barely a century. The Incas had no written language and their history was entirely oral, passed down through the generations. Manco Capac was the first of the Inca rulers. The reigns of the seven Incas who succeeded Manco Capac spanned a period from around the 12th century to the early 15th century. The small tribe they governed was one of several groups living in the Andean highlands during the 13th and 14th centuries. These Incas left few signs of their existence, though the remains of some of their palaces can still be seen in Cuzco.

The 9th Inca, Pachacutec, began the empire's great expansion. Until his time, the Incas had dominated only a small area close to Cuzco, frequently skirmishing with, but not conquering, various other highland tribes. One such tribe, the expansionist Chancas. occupied a region about lS0 hen east of Cuzco and, by 1438 was on the verge of conquering Cuzco. Viracocha Inca and his eldest son, Urcon, believed that their small empire was lost but Viracocha Inca's third son refused to give up the fight. With the help of some of the older generals he rallied the Inca army and, in a desperate final battle, managed to rout the Chancas. 

According to legend, the unexpected victory was won because the boulders on the battlefield fumed into warriors and fought on the side of the Inca. The victorious younger son changed his name to Pachacutec and proclaimed himself the new Inca over his father and elder brother. Buoyed by his victory over the Chancas he began the first wave of the expansion which was to eventually create the Inca Empire. During the next 25 years, he conquered most of the central Andes between the two great lakes of Titicaca and Junin. Huayna capac, the 11th Inca was the last to rule over a unified empire. By this time, Europeans had discovered the new world and various epidemics started sweeping down on the Empire. A civil was also erupted. 

In 1532, after several years of warfare, Atahualpa's battle-hardened troops won the major battle of the civil war and captured Huascar outside Cuzco. Atahualpa, the new Inca, retired to Cajamarca to rest. Meanwhile, Francisco Pizarro landed in northern Ecuador and marched south in the wake of Atahualpa's conquests. Although Atahualpa was undoubtedly aware of the Spanish presence, he was too busy fighting the civil war to worry about a small band of foreigners. The empire's main expansion occurred in the 100 years or so prior to the arrival of the conquistadors. Our knowledge of their history dates back to the "chronicles" which included accounts of Inca history as related by the Incas to the Spanish chroniclers.

As a mighty military figure, historians have frequently compared Pachacutec to the likes of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. He was also a great urban developer. Pachacutec devised the city's famous puma shape and diverted the Sapphi and Tullumayo rivers into channels which crossed the city, keeping it clean and providing it with water. He built agricultural terraces and many buildings, including the famous Coricancha temple and his palace on what is now the western corner of the Plaza de Armas in Cusco.


By the autumn of 1532, however, Pizarro was in northern Peru, Atahualpa had defeated Huascar and a fateful meeting was arranged between the Inca and Pizarro. The meeting, which took place in Cajamarca on 16 November 1532, was to change the course of South American history. The Inca was ambushed by a few dozen armed conquistadors, who succeeded in capturing Atahualpa, killing thousands of unarmed Indians and routing tens of thousands more. The conquest of the Incas had begun.

After holding Atahualpa prisoner and then murdering him, he marched into Cuzco and was accepted by the people because their loyalties lay more with the defeated Huascar than with Atahualpa. The second reason was the superior Spanish weaponry. Mounted on horseback, protected by armor and swinging steel swords the Spanish cavalry was virtually unstoppable. The Spaniards hacked dozens of unprotected Indian warriors to death during a battle. The Indians responded with their customary weapons - clubs, spears, slingshots and arrows - but these were rarely lethal against the mounted, armor-plated conquistadors. Pizarro himself entered Cuzco on 8 November 1533 after winning a series of battles on the road from Cajamarca. 

By this time, Atahualpa had been killed and Pizarro appointed Manco, a halfbrother of Huascar, as a puppet Inca. For almost 3 years, the empire remained relatively peaceful under the rule of Manco Inca and Pizarro. In 1536 Manco Inca realized that the Spaniards were there to stay and decided to try and drive them from his empire. He fled the Spanish and raised a huge army, estimated at well over 100,000. He laid siege to the Spaniards in Cuzco and almost succeeded in defeating them. Only a desperate, last-ditch breakout from Cuzco and a violent battle at Sacsayhuaman saved the Spanish from complete annihilation. Manco Inca retreated to Ollantaytambo and then into the jungle at Vilcabamba. The conquest succeeded for two main reasons. Firstly, Pizarro realized that the emotion of the recent civil war still ran high and decided to turn this to his advantage. 

In the early battles, the Indians were terrified of the Spaniards' horses and primitive firearms, neither of which had been seen in the Andes.  It took Pizarro almost a year to reach Cuzco after capturing Atahualpa. In an attempt to regain his freedom, the Inca offered a ransom of a roomful of gold and two rooms of silver. This was to be brought from Cuzco. To speed up the process, Pizarro sent three soldiers to Cuzco early in 1533 to strip Coricancha or the "Gold Courtyard", of its rich ornamentation.