What caused the collapse of the ancient Peruvian pyramid cities?

At one time, they were majestic and massive, dotted across Peru: Great pyramids that rivaled those found in ancient Egypt. Cities were built around them and religious rites were performed to honor various deities.

And then the cities suddenly disappeared, the people vanished.

What happened to the great ancient Peruvian pyramid cities? The answer may unlock a fate that awaits modern-day humanity, too.

A diagram showing what the great pyramid of Caral, Peru looked like in its heyday (Via YouTube)

Perhaps the best example of Peruvian pyramid building can be found in the city of Caral, which Ancient Origins notes was once a thriving metropolis:

“The urban complex of Caral was first discovered by Paul Kosok in 1948, and then later studied by Ruth Shady from the San Marcos University. Caral flourished between 2600 BC to roughly 1800 BC.
“The Caral complex consisted of 150 acres (61 hectares) and was home to dwellings, plazas, and a 92 foot (28 meter) high temple. Its urban design was continually used by other Andean civilizations during the next 4,000 years. Caral was once a thriving metropolis which indulged in trade and ceremonial practices. The fascinating artifacts consist of a record-keeping knotted piece called a quipu, flutes made from condor and pelican bones, and cornetts constructed from the bones of deer and llamas.”

The remains of the Caral pyramid today (Via YouTube)

It’s now believed that climate change is the likely culprit for why Caral went from a major center of trade and commerce to a deserted landscape:

“Climate wise, during 1800 BC – 1500 BC, there was the Middle Bronze Age cold epoch, which was a period of an unusually cold environment in the North Atlantic region lasting roughly 300 years. During this time, it was believed that a series of severe volcanic eruptions occurred which could have caused significant problems globally.”

Yes, climate change, the very same menace which confronts the world today, could well be responsible for the fall of Caral, leaving only its pyramids as evidence of what once amazed visitors who saw the city as they approached.

Cahuachi, Pyramid City of the Nazca

Cahuachi was the largest ceremonial city of the Nazca people:

“According to the works of Italian archaeologist Guiseppe Orefici and American archaeologist Helaine Silverman, recent evidence suggests Cahuachi might have been a center for religious pilgrimage. Though the site appears to have been used until 500 AD, pilgrimages dwindled until people stopped going.”

The grand pyramid at Cahuachi (Via Wikimedia Commons)

As with Caral, climate disaster is the main reason Cahuachi became a ghost town:

“A team of Italian archaeologists led by Nicola Masini and Rosa Lasaponara used remote sensing satellite technology and discovered that between 300 AD and 350 AD, two natural disasters occurred. The first was a mighty flood and the second was a devastating earthquake which hit Cahuachi.”

La Huaca de La Luna and La Huaca de La Sol

Constructed by the Moche people, these are two massive pyramids that are known as the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.

The site of La Huaca de La Sol  has a giant causeway which gives way to a steeped pyramid, and it served a very special purpose for those who passed from life to death:

“It is believed that Huaca del Sol served as an administrative, military, and residential function, as well as highly elite Moche burial ground.”

Huaca de La Luna, on the other hand, was for religious ceremonies, including human sacrifices:

“The eastern platform was designated for human rituals. After sacrifice, the bodies of the victims were hurled over the side and left exposed on the patios. Excavations have revealed multiple adult male skeletal remains showing signs of trauma, usually a severe blow to the head, as the cause of death.”

Huaca del Sol (Via Flickr)

Drought caused by climate change is probably what led to the downfall of these two areas:

“Researchers believe that around 880 AD a disastrous drought began and lasted for at least 100 years. This corresponds to the decline of the Wari, the Tiwanaku, and most likely the Moche as well. The Moche may have succumbed to the same fate as many other civilizations in that region: Earthquakes, prolonged drought, and catastrophic flooding arising from the El Nino climatic anomalies.”

These once great cities were abandoned and left to the elements thanks to the scourge of climate change. Now, thousands of years later, we face the very same threat and, unlike the ancient Peruvians, can do something to potentially alter the course of our own history. But will we, or are we also destined to leave little more than relics and monuments?

Related: Ancient climate change gives scientists vital clues as to how our society could adapt today

For more on the pyramids of Caral, watch this informative video:

Featured Image Via YouTube Screenshot

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