Lost Pyramids of Caral

This documentary adds to the notions port forward in my earlier sharing of the Wired article, Human Nature May not Be So Warlike After All.

I saw this film eleven years ago just after the BBC first aired it. A key idea explored here is that despite always looking for the signs of it, archeologists do not find what they are looking for: evidence that early human civilization centered on conflict.

The Mother of All Cities

For over a century, archaeologists have been searching for what they call a mother city. Civilisation began in only six areas of the world: Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, Peru and Central America. In each of these regions people moved from small family units to build cities of thousands of people. They crossed the historic divide, one of the great moments in human history. Why? To find the answer archaeologists needed to find a mother city – the first stage of city-building.

Civilisation through conflict

They couldn’t find one anywhere. Everywhere this first stage seemed destroyed or built over. And so, instead, scientists developed a number of theories. Some said it was because of the development of trade, others that it was irrigation. Some even today believe it was all because of aliens. Gradually an uneasy consensus emerged. The key force common to all civilisations was warfare.

The theory was that only the fear of war could motivate people to give up the simple life and form complex societies. To prove it, archaeologists still had to find a city from that very first stage of civilisation. If it showed signs of warfare, then the theory had to be true.

Peruvian archaeologist, Ruth ShadyWhen archaeologist Ruth Shady discovered her 5,000 year old city of pyramids in the Peruvian desert, all eyes were on the New World. Ruth’s extraordinary city, known as Caral, is so much older than anything else in South America that it is a clear candidate to be the mother city. It also is in pristine condition. Nothing has been built on it at all. Instead laid out before the world is an elaborate complex of pyramids, temples, an amphitheatre and ordinary houses.

Make love not war

Crucially, there is not the faintest trace of warfare at Caral; no battlements, no weapons, no mutilated bodies. Instead, Ruth’s findings suggest it was a gentle society, built on commerce and pleasure. 

via BBC – Science & Nature – Horizon – The Lost Pyramids of Caral.



  1. Finally got the chance to watch. Very very interesting. Thank you for posting! I couldn’t help thinking two things. Thomas khun on the one hand and anarchism / power structures on the other. Great food for thought. Again, thanks!

    1. Sure thing. Glad you found it thought provoking. And those are things I have pondered this week after remembering about this video. The difficulty involved in changing a predominate assumption in the sciences is really intriguing to me. As a philosopher in the academy, I am always being told by scientists how open science is to exploration. There is usually some nod made to Kuhn, but “that has not been my experience”…etc. And then some snide comment is made about the degree of “unnecessary speculation” in philosophy. Always an irritating conversation. When I actually meet a few scientists willing to philosophize, I am almost too excited for a dialog. 🙂

      And it does open up some questions vis. anarchist assumptions about the ability to have communal associations of trade without all the dominating structures of cut-throatness and warfare.

      Have you read Debt: The First 5000 Years by Graeber? I recommend it highly if you have not.

      1. hahaha. I’m glad to hear there is someone else who goes through my pain. I’ve really given up altogether. They can wait for the ‘paradigm shift’ and see for themselves. In terms of the movie – im really interested as to what else they’ll find in the future. I’m sure there are civilizations older than 2500 years that are still somewhat preserved.

        I haven’t read much anarchist theory but the movie definitely gave me a nudge in that direction. It does make sense to think that warfare developed out of civilizations and not the other way around. Any suggestions where to start?

        I actually haven’t even heard of it. I’ll definitely look into it. Much appreciated!!

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