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 is now the Bering Strait, dividing the Asian Continent from Alaska. 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 Mexico and 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 other words, all the indigenous peoples of the Americas are of Asian ethnic extraction.

There is archaeological 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.

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” (i.e. 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 considerable advances in the spheres of weaving, tool-making and ornamental design.

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