The Preceramic Period

Alvaro Higueras


Early Preceramic Late Preceramic

The prehistoric sequence in Peru spans about 15000 years, starting around 13000 BC with the evidence of the first hunter-gatherer societies in the highlands of Ayacucho and Ancash.

Populations coming from the North American continent through Central America people the Andes. Peopling of the Andes seems to start in the highlands, where are found most inhabited rock caves for these earlier times: Lauricocha, Pacaicasa, Guitarrero Cave.

The first evidence for human populations on the coast occurs around 6500 BC. It is suggested that fish and seafood are the main source of food at this time. A wide range of stone tools, from fish hooks to large hammers, and fishing and hunting activity areas are found all along the coast, from what are now the desert plains of Sechura in the north to the desert coast of Moquegua.

Domestication of plants in the Andes starts occurring by 4000 BC when plants like bean, guava, frijol, cotton, Peruvian pepper (ají), and maize and tubers like potato and olluco start showing up more persistently in the archaeological record. At this point in time, coastal populations are practicing horticulturalists, a step short of agriculture that will come when they flock to the river valleys in the next period. This process in the highlands is mimicked by the domestication of two camelid species, the llama and alpaca, while the other two species, the vicuña and the guanaco, are until today wild species.

This period represents an important leap with respect to the Early Preceramic. Sedentism, extensive use of cotton, and the development of the first monumental structures are the main feature of the period. This contrasts with transhumance and constant mobility patterns of the previous period, no knowledge of textiles and no monumental architecture.

Populations will start settling in permanent villages, with huts or houses made with wattle and daub. In them, they will build large mounds with ritual rooms on the top. These buildings are the predecessors of the Andean U-shaped Temple, to be built in the next period, and also predate the Andean truncated pyramid, to be built by most prehistoric societies.

Large scale structures, interpreted as religious and elite structures: large, long, and high platforms (often superimposed on each other creating truncated pyramids) on the coast, and stone rooms with niched walls and small, central, ventilated,  hearths for religious ceremonies in the highlands. The two regions present distinct architectural features in the new andean religious monuments. 

People were most probably consuming a mixed diet in which fish was predominant in earlier times. At the time, it is almost certain that ecological conditions on the coast were quite different than in the last 4000 years. There is strong evidence to suggest that lomas were more common: what are today very dry desertic lands had dense vegetation, at least during part of the year. This primitive shrub-forest on the coast would have been a rich source of food in the form of plants and animals, to support the hunter and gatherer part of the subsistence economy of this time.

Late Preceramic: "Weaving" in Huaca Prieta

One important evidence of "weaving" in this early periods comes from the mound of Huaca Prieta on the north coast of Peru, excavated by Junius Bird of the American Museum of Natural History in the late 40s.


Twining with colored wefts that produce a design of a bird, from Huaca Prieta.

Robert Bird (pers.comm.) explains: This "weaving" depicts a condor with a snake in its stomach. It was found in the Late Preceramic strata of Huaca Prieta. It is not woven, rather it is twined much like totora mats are produced today on the north coast. The design results from having wefts of two colors, one in front of the other on the loom. In the "transposed-wrap twining" style, if the back color is wanted at the front, it is pulled forward and to one side, then held there by the two intertwined wefts. The photo shows the zig-zag and zag-zig pattern that results, with the faded color restored with pencilling."

At the National Carpet Museum of Azerbaijan, Baku, an example of a loom for Khasir mats (left), and a roll of the mat that shows the same patterns as ththe


khasir Khasir

Time frame



Location of sites

Links to other periods
Initial Period Formative Period Early Intermediate Period
Middle Horizon Late Intermediate Period Late Horizon
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