The culture of South America is one that has a varied and interesting history, but for many people, the real interest here doesn't lie in the colonial period but in the culture of the native people who originally inhabited the continent. The Inca civilization is probably the most famous of the people who have lived in South America, but archaeological excavations have exposed many different types of sites from across the ages on the continent. As the centuries ebbed and flowed many of the great cities of these cultures were forgotten, before being rediscovered and brought to the attention of the world. For professionals and enthusiasts alike, South America is a treasure trove of important archaeological sites.
1. Machu Picchu, Peru
The discovery of the hilltop city of Machu Picchu at the start of the twentieth century was one of the most important discoveries in archaeology since the exploration of Egypt, and this dramatic site still captures the imagination of thousands of visitors every year. The stepped terraces that are cut into the steep slopes here made it possible for the Incas of the fifteenth century to build this city in an almost impregnable location. The restoration of the site has been progressing for over a century since it was first revealed to the world by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911.
Visitors going to Machu Picchu today will see that many of the outlying buildings have been reconstructed, while other parts of the site still have ongoing archaeological work. The work of the Incan stonemasons who cut the stones is still impressive today, and although it is in a remote location, there is no doubt that Machu Picchu is the jewel in the crown for Peruvian tourism.
2. Ciudad Perdida, Colombia
Lying in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, the remoteness of this archaeological site helped to keep it a secret from the outside world until it was discovered in 1972 by a group of treasure hunters. The site itself is believed to be around six centuries older than Machu Picchu, with evidence that it was founded around the start of the ninth century. Ciudad Perdida is simply the Spanish translation of 'Lost City', although the native tribes know the site as Teyuna.
Despite the growth in interest in the site, its remote location and the fact that it can only be accessed by a long trek mean that it is still quite a quiet tourist site, with over one thousand two hundred steps taking visitors through the jungle to the site. Many of the terraces on the site have been exposed, and visitors can see a small number of carvings that have been discovered along with a number of open plazas that offer stunning views over the surrounding valleys.
3. Serra Da Capivara, Brazil
The Serra Da Capivara National Park is located in the inland north east of Brazil, and is particularly notable because it is home to some of the oldest known sites of human habitation in South America. The steep sided valleys of the park have a large network of caves where rock art left by the natives at the time can be seen. These are impressive both because of their images and the fact that some are estimated to date from up to fifty thousand years ago. There is a nearby museum that gives visitors an insight into the full facts about the site, and the civilization that would have occupied these caves over thousands of years.
4. Chan Chan, Peru
The ancient city of Chan Chan is located on the north west coast of Peru near the modern city of Trujillo, and is the largest known city to date from the pre-colonial period in South America.
Excavations have revealed ten walled citadels on the site, and an intricate network of canals that brought water from a nearby river into the city, and several large water reserves within the city. Some of the most impressive aspects of the site are to be found on the walls of some of these buildings, where beautiful carvings of men, animals and patterns have been revealed.
5. Tierradentro, Colombia
The network of tombs to be found on the site of Tierradentro near the south west coast of Colombia is one of the most impressive in the world, with each network of tombs located between five and eight metres beneath the surface. Within these tombs the artisans who created and decorated each one create a central chamber that looks like the traditional Colombian homes, with several smaller linked chambers actually containing the tombs. It is believed these tombs were built between the sixth and tenth centuries, with the remote mountainous locations helping the site to remain hidden for over a thousand years.