There were many pre-Columbian cultures that preceded the Inca Civilization, some by millenia. What we know of these pre-Inca civilizations is entirely from archeological excavations since they did not make use of a written language. Archeologists had deduce historical information from tools, art and buildings and interpret the decoration found on pottery and textile to understand their way of life. Pieces of Pre-Inca and Inca art are displayed in Peru’s archeological museums.
The first known city was the city of Caral located in the Supe Valley 200 km north of Lima, it is also known as the Norte Chico Civilization.
Kotosh was the first urban center and is located in the sierra of Huanuco. The Crossed Hands or manos Cruzadas is the first known sculpture of the era.
The 5000 year old Caral is the oldest city in the Americas
The Chavin culture is located in Chavin de Huantar, southeast of the Cordillera Blanca. They built large temples, the largest early buildings in Peru. To honor their gods they built huge sculptures such as the Lanzon Monolith, Tello Obelisk, the Raymondi Stella and carved heads in their building walls.
Chavin art – Carved Head
The paracas developed advanced agricultural techniques and one of their most important crops was cotton. Using cotton, vicuña and alpaca wool they weavedfine-looking multicolored tapestries and blankets and dyed their creations with natural dyes of which they created more than 190 different shades. Textiles were considered a symbol of status. The Paracas people were also known for their burial grounds.
Paracas burial ground
The Nasca were experts at turning desert land into arable land and were continuously searching for water. The Nasca are best known for its lines and drawings of animals that cover a large area of the desert outside the towns of Nasca and Palpa. The Nasca lines, as they are known, are shallow designs and were created by removing dark stones and exposing the lighter sand underneath.
The enigmatic Nasca Lines – The Hummingbird
The Moche was an urban civilization that had much in common with the Incas. Each town was ruled by a lord , one of them was “Gran Señor de Sipan” or the Lord of Sipan whose tomb was found intact.
Lord of Sipan, reconstruction of the original tomb
It was the Wari who consolidated the construction of urban cities in the territory, they also built roads to connect the cities. At present, ruins of Wari cities can be found in Ayacucho, Cusco, Lima, and Mantaro.
The Tiwanaku culture developed in the Altiplano at the shores of Lake Titicaca and expanded to what today is Bolivia and part of Chile. They built stone cities and it is believed that the Incas inherited their construction technique.
Tiwanaku Culture – Portal to the Sun
The Lambayeque culture is best know for their goldsmith skills, they left numerous gold, silver and copper objects.
Lambayeque gold cups at the Metropolitan in NY
The Chimu were fantastic farmers, fishermen and artisans but they are most famous for its architecture. Chan Chan was the Chimu capital city built around 850 or 900 and was the most important political center in the north.
Chan Chan wall art detail – birds
The Chinchas lived in the south coast in the Valley of Chincha. The natural conditions of the valley lead to great agricultural activity in the area which became one of the main economical activities.
The Inca Civilization was the largest Pre-Columbian Civilization of the Americas.
The museum has over 12,000 pieces as part of its permanent collection, some of the older pieces date back more than 3000 years. Its collection includes exhibits from pre-Columbian art and ancient Peru inhabitants to contemporary art.
The museum features an extensive archeological collection of more than 100,000 items from pre-Inca cultures such as the Moche, Chimu, Paracas, Chavin, Nasca and others and includes ceramic, textiles, tools and ruins that were built more than 3000 years ago. It also displays Inca art and objects from Colonial and Republican periods.