Then, as the 21st century dawned, Caral took centre-stage. In 2000, carbon dating of a bag woven from plant fibres proved that the 163-acre site had been built between 3000 and 2100BC, making it the oldest civilisation on the continent of the Americas and contemporaneous with the pyramids of Giza in Egypt. At a stroke, Caral was rocketed into the archaeological superleague.
But on this overcast morning Caral's celebrity status was hardly in evidence. As we waited by the empty ticket desk, Alejandra, a tour guide based in Lima, told me I was the first visitor she had brought to Caral in 2008, and it was already June. "Everything about Peru is Inca, Inca," she said. "Everyone goes to Machu Picchu. They don't stay long enough to come up here."
Peru: A history lost in the ruins
Done Machu Picchu? There's more to Peru's ancient past, Nigel Richardson discovers in Caral and Cajamarca.
By Nigel Richardson | Published: 12:26PM BST 24 Jun 2009