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Aspero (Peru)

A Preceramic Site on the Coast of Peru


Location of Huaca Prieta and Caral in Peru

Location of Huaca Prieta and Caral in Peru

CIA World FactBook

Aspero is a large Late Preceramic site located in the Supe Valley of Peru, on the arid north-central coast, and part of the Caral-Supe tradition of mound construction. Aspero covers an area of approximately 14 hectares (35 acres) and is composed of two huge platform mounds: Huaca de los Sacrificios and Huaca de los Idolos, and other 15 smaller mounds. Other constructions include plazas, terraces and large refuse areas (middens).

The earliest occupation phase, identified in one of the largest mounds, dates back to about 3000 BC.

Environment and Subsistence

The site of Aspero is located at the mouth of the Supe river, close to the Pacific Ocean. People living at Aspero had a nonagricultural subsistence, based on fishing, shellfish collecting and hunting sea mammals. Fish hooks and nets have been recovered in both domestic contexts and trash middens.

Plants cultivated by Aspero's inhabitants included guayaba, pacae, achira, beans, squash, sweet potato, avocado, and peanut. It is also likely that Aspero, along with other early coastal settlements, had intense social relations with inland communities with whom it exchanged agricultural products, not locally available.

Architecture at Aspero

Ceremonial buildings at Aspero, such as the Huaca del los Sacrificios and Huaca de los Idolos, represent some of the oldest example of public architecture in the Americas. Some archaeologists believe that these constructions were the result of corporate efforts that brought together different communities to create a communal place for rituals and public ceremonies.

The largest of these structure is the Huaca of the Idolos, which is more than 10 meters high, and measured 40 x 30 m. The raised platform features basalt block masonry, along with cobble and adobe constructions. The main structure atop the mounds present several enclosed rooms and courts. The outer platform walls are often covered with a surface of plaster and are occasionally painted.

The name, Huaca de los Idolos, comes from an offering of several human figurines (interpreted as idols) recovered from the top of the platform. Huaca de los Sacrificios, instead, owes its name to two burials, a child and an adult, found in one of the rooms on the top of the platform. The remains of the adult burial were very disturbed, but the child offered much useful information. The body was wrapped in textiles and the head wore a headdress adorned with shells, plant and clay beads. The body was placed into a basket, wrapped into textiles and finally covered with a carved stone basin.

Aspero, along with other large urban centers on the north coast of Peru, is an important example of the so-called “maritime hypothesis”. This theory, held by some scholars, including Michael Moseley, argues that complex societies in Peru developed from a non-agricultural tradition, based on fishery and maritime resources. This theory is debated by other scholars who cite the evidence of earlier, inland sites where irrigation agriculture was widespread.

Archaeological Research at Aspero

Archaeological research at Aspero began in 1905, with the work of Max Uhle. Later, in 1940s, Gordon Willey and other archaeologists investigated the site. During the 1960s and 70s various studies attested the early development of the site and helped assigning a Late Preceramic (or Preceramic VI, 2500-2000 BC) phase to the ruins.

Recent investigations of Aspero have revealed much about the effects of el Nino climate and earthquakes on the Caral Supe civilization. In a recent paper, Sandweiss and colleagues documented evidence of damaging earthquakes in most of the buildings, and hypothesize that the combination of catastrophic events led to the eventual downfall of the early civilization.


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Caral-Supe, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Giesso, Martin, 2008, Historical Dictionary of Ancient South America, The Scarecrow Press Inc. Lanham, Maryland, Toronto and Plymouth, UK.

Isbell William, H. and Helaine Silverman, 2006, Andean Archaeology III: North and South, Springer.

Moseley, Michael E., 2001, The Incas and their Ancestors. The Archaelogy of Peru. Revised Edition. Thames & Hudson

Pozoroski Shelia and Thomas Pozoroski, 2008, Early Cultural Complexity on the Coast of Peru, in The Handbook of American Archaeology, edited by Helaine Silverman and William H. Isbell, Springer, pp: 603-631.

Sandweiss DH, Solís RS, Moseley ME, Keefer DK, and Ortloff CR. 2009. Environmental change and economic development in coastal Peru between 5,800 and 3,600 years ago. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106(5):1359-1363.

Stanish, Charles, 2001, The Origin of State Societies in South America. Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 30, pp. 41-64.

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