The first Peruvians were descendants of the nomadic tribes which had crossed into the Americas during the last Ice Age (40,000-15,000 BC), when a combination of ice packs and low sea levels exposed a neck of solid “land” to span what’s now the Bering Strait. Following herds of game animals from Siberia into what must have been a relative paradise of fertile coast, wild forest, mountain and savannah, successive generations continued south through Central America. Some made their way down along the Andes, into the Amazon, and out onto the more fertile areas of the Peruvian and Ecuadorian coast, while others found their niches en route.
In a number of tribes there seem to be cultural memories of these long migrations, encapsulated in their traditional mythologies – though these aren’t really transcribable into written histories. There is, however, archeological evidence of human occupation in Peru dating back to around 15,000-20,000 BC, concentrated in the Ayacucho Valley , where these early Peruvians lived in caves or out in the open. Around 12,000 BC, slightly to the north in the Chillon Valley (just above modern Lima), comes the first evidence of significant craft skills – stone blades and knives for hunting. At this time there were probably similar groups of hunter tribes in the mountains and jungle too, but the climatic conditions of these zones make it unlikely that any significant remains will ever be found.
The difficulties of traversing the rugged terrain between the highlands and coast evidently proved little problem for the early Peruvians. From 8000 to 2000 BC, migratory bands of hunters and gatherers alternated between camps in the lowlands during the harsh mountain winters and highland summer “resorts”, their actual movements well synchronized with those of wild animal herds. One important mountain encampment from this Incipient Era has been discovered at Lauricocha , near Huanuco, at an altitude of over 4000m. Here the art of working stone – eventually producing very fine blades and arrow points – seems to have been sophisticated, while at the same time a growing cultural imagination found expression in cave paintings depicting animals, hunting scenes and even dances. Down on the coast at this time other groups were living on the greener lomas belts of the desert in places like Chilca to the south, and in the mangrove swamps around Tumbes to the north.
An awareness of the potential uses of plants began to emerge around 5000 BC with the cultivation of seeds and tubers (the potato being one of the most important “discoveries” later taken to Europe); to be followed over the next two millennia by the introduction, presumably from the Amazon, of gourds, Lima beans, then squashes, peanuts, and eventually cotton. Towards the end of this period a climatic shift turned the coast into a much more arid belt and forced those living there to try their hand at agriculture in the fertile river beds, a process to some extent paralleled in the mountains.
With a stable agricultural base, permanent settlements sprang up all along the coast, notably at Chicama , Asia and Paracas , and in the sierra at Kotosh . The population began to mushroom, and with it came a new consciousness, perhaps influenced by cultural developments within the Amazon Basin to the east: cultism – the burial of the dead in mummy form, the capturing of trophy heads, and the building of grand religious structures – made its first appearance. At the same time there were also overwhelming technological advances in the spheres of weaving, tool-making and ornamental design.

The Chavín Cult

From around 1200 BC to 200 AD – the Formative Era – agriculture and village life became established. Ceramics were invented, and a slow disintegration of regional isolation began. This last factor was due mainly to the widespread dispersal of…

The Classical Era

A diverse period – and one marked by intense development in almost every field – the Classical Era (200-1100 AD) saw the emergence of numerous distinct cultures, both on the coast and in the sierra. The best documented, though not…

The Incas

With the Inca Empire (1200-1532) came the culmination of the city-building phase and the beginnings of a kind of Peruvian unity, with the Incas, although originally no more than a tribe of around forty thousand, gradually taking over each of…

The Spanish Conquest

Francisco Pizarro , along with two dozen soldiers, stumbled upon and named the Pacific Ocean in 1513 while on an exploratory expedition in Panama. From that moment his determination, fired by native tales of a fabulously rich land to the south, was…

Colonial Peru

Queen Isabella of Spain indirectly laid the original foundations for the political administration of Peru in 1503 when she authorized the initiation of an encomienda system , which meant that successful Spanish conquerors could extract tribute…


When the Hapsburg monarchy gave way to the Bourbon kings in Spain at the beginning of the eighteenth century, shivers of protest seemed to reverberate deep in the Peruvian hinterland. There were a number of serious native rebellions against…

The republic

San Martín immediately assumed political control of the fledgling nation. Under the title Protector of Peru he set about devising a workable constitution for the new nation – at one point even considering importing European royalty to…

The War of the Pacific

By the late nineteenth century Peru’s foreign debt, particularly to England, had grown enormously. Even though interest could be paid in guano, there simply wasn’t enough. To make matters considerably worse, Peru went to war with Chile in 1879. …

The twentieth century

Modern Peru is generally considered to have been born in 1895 with the forced resignation of General Caceres. However, the seeds of industrial development had been laid under his rule, albeit by foreigners. In 1890 an international plan was…

Land reform and the military regime

By now, many intellectuals and government officials saw the agrarian situation as an urgent economic problem as well as a matter of social justice. Even the army believed that land reform was a prerequisite for the development of a larger…

The 1970s and 1980s

After twelve years of military government the 1980 elections resulted in a centre-right alliance between Acción Popular and the Popular Christian Party. Belaunde resumed the presidency having become an established celebrity during his years of…

The 1990s

Elections in 1990 proved to be a turning point for Peru. In the run-up to them there were four main candidates: the popular and internationally renowned author Mario Vargas Llosa, with his new right-wing coalition, Fredemo; Luís Alvacastro, general…

The elections of 2000

The run-up to the elections of April 9, 2000, was marked by Fujimori’s controversial decision to stand for a third term of office, despite the Peruvian Constitution only allowing for two continuous terms. His rationale was that since the…

Cultural chronology of Peru

20,000-10,000 BC First evidence of human settlement in Peru. Cave dwellings in the Ayacucho Valley; stone artefacts in the Chillon Valley. 8000-5000 BC Nomadic tribes , and more permanent…

Peruvian political updates

For regular news on Peruvian politics and other matters, subscribe to the Peru Support Group , 37-39 Great Guildford Street, London SE1 OES, UK (tel 020/7620-1103, fax 7261-9291, perusupport@ Established in…

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