Before the Inca Empire took control of Peru and the west coast of South America, there were other tribes and civilizations that formed throughout the history of the region.
Norte Chico Civilization (3000 BC to 1800 BC)
The first civilization to form in the Americas was the Norte Chico civilization of northern Peru. It was one of only six civilizations to form separately in the ancient world. Archeologists think that around 30 major cities were part of the government formed by the Norte Chico including the capital city of Caral. The Norte Chico did not have ceramics, but built large monumental structures.
Chavin (900 BC to 200 BC)
The Chavin civilization reached its height around 500 BC. The Chavin lived in the Mosna Valley in the west central part of Peru. They are named after their most well-known site the Chavin de Huantar which was located high up in the Andes Mountains. The Chavin carved the images of their gods into huge blocks of stone.
Paracas (700 BC to 200 AD)
The Paracas civilization developed along the coast of Peru. They were skilled farmers who used advanced irrigation techniques to water their crops. The Paracas are known for their tombs and well-preserved mummies as well as their complex textiles.
Nazca (100 AD to 800 AD)
The Nazca civilization was located along the southern coast of Peru. Their culture was heavily influenced by the Paracas civilization. The Nazca built underground aqueducts and were known for producing beautiful artwork and ceramics. Today the Nazca are most famous for their "Nazca lines". The Nazca made huge figures by carving long lines right into the ground of the dry plateau between the towns of Nazca and Palpa. You can still see these figures today when flying over the land in an airplane. Some of the figures are over 600 feet long! The figures include monkeys, spiders, trees, fish, and llamas.
Moche (100 AD to 800 AD)
The Moche developed along the northern coast of Peru at the same time the Nazca were flourishing in the south. The center of the Moche civilization was Moche city. Moche city is known for two large structures, the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. The Pyramid of the Sun was a huge structure made from over 130 million adobe bricks. The Moche people were also famous for their artistic pottery that was often made in the shape of animals and people.
Portrait Vessel Pottery made by the Moche
Tiahuanaco (300 AD to 1000 AD)
At the center of the Tiahuanaco civilization was a large city with an estimated population of 50,000 people. It was located high in the Andes Mountains at 12,000 feet above sea level. This city had a large temple complex with huge statues and a famous stone arch called the Gateway of the Sun.
Huari (800 AD to 900 AD)
The Huari civilization developed to the north of the Tiahuanaco people and had much in common with them. The city of Huari was the center of the empire which had a central government as well as taxes. They also developed terraced farming in the mountains and had a well built road system. The Huari reached their peak around 800 AD, but something happened and they collapsed around 100 years later. No one is quite sure why the Huari disappeared.
Map of the Huari and Tiahuanaco
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Chimu (900 AD to 1476 AD)
The Chimu Empire was the last well developed civilization prior to the rise of the Inca. They built their capital city Chan Chan around 1200 AD and expanded their empire to include much of Peru. They were conquered by the Inca in 1476 AD.
Interesting Facts about the Tribes of Early Peru
The Norte Chico civilization was discovered in the late 1990s by archeologist Ruth Shady Solis.
Sometimes the Huari is spelled "Wari".
The capital city of the Chimu, Chan Chan, covered an area of around 10 square miles.
When archeologists uncovered the Huari city of Pikillacta they found over 700 stone buildings. Some of the buildings were three stories tall.
Most of the Moche pyramids were emptied by grave robbers, however archeologists found one intact. They found a mummy of a man who has since been nicknamed the Lord of Sipan.