The extraordinary Taj Mahal in Agra, India, is a famous symbol of love and devotion. Tremendous wealth was required to construct this monument. There is a direct connection to precious metals of the Incas and their ancestors – and particularly, to silver from the Potosí mine high in the Andes Mountains.
For thousands of years, ancient people collected and transported enormous rocks from quarries to carve their gigantic statues and shape blocks for pyramids, temples, and other monumental structures. The ancient Egyptians are particularly renowned for their work with massive blocks. They used around 200 different quarries over 3,000 years, and worked sandstone, limestone, basalt, granites, and many other types of rocks .
When I first visited the Peruvian Andes, I was astonished to see groves of eucalyptus — native Australian trees — at elevations greater than 10,000 feet (3,048 m). Eucalyptus is the most widely planted non-native tree in coastal California, which has a Mediterranean-type climate like that found in parts of Australia, but why are these trees in the high Andes?
Geoglyphs are large designs typically longer than about 13 feet (4 m) and produced on the ground by arranging rocks or soil. They are distinctive elements of the archaeological record along the Pacific coast of the Americas, from California to Chile. The Nazca lines of Peru are famous geoglyphs of animals and geometric shapes, constructed in the arid deserts of south-central coastal Peru between about 500 BCE and 500 CE.
Bright blue ponds looming out of the red desert landscape near Moab, Utah, recently prompted my interest in the potash harvested from the pools. The potassium-bearing contents of the ponds will become a key ingredient of synthetic fertilizers. These are essential to feed the growing population on our planet, but fertilizer components are not in infinite supply, plus are causing many environmental problems.
How did the ancient Andeans and Egyptians move the massive stone blocks used to build their monumental architecture? With an abundance of human muscle power but only simple hand tools, they needed to be creative. Floating blocks on boats across lakes and along river channels was a possible transport method—but did they have the water and the engineering technology for this?
Safeguarding ancient Egyptian cultural treasures in the 1960s laid the groundwork for the UNESCO World Heritage Site program. These designations provide protections for places having outstanding cultural and natural heritage. Both Egypt and Peru have fabulous archaeological sites with World Heritage designations, and I’ve had the good fortune to see many. I hope to visit World Heritage Sites in many other countries.
Ancient Moche artists created an exceptional level of ceramic art over 1,500 years ago when this culture prospered along the arid north coast of Peru. They produced realistic three-dimensional ceramic forms of people and animals, and they decorated vessels with exquisite fine-line drawings. Several aspects of Moche ceramics recently caught my interest, especially the realistic ceramic animals and the drawings of supernatural creatures.
In the earthquake-prone central Andes Mountains, there archaeological sites with monumental adobe and stone block structures standing that were built by ancient people hundreds and even thousands of years ago. Clearly, the ancient builders planned to have their important structures last–-and they had the knowledge to build appropriately for their environment. Buildings that promise to last a long time are also being constructed today.
Many ancient cultures revered red, the color of blood and historically associated with danger, courage, and sacrifice. Thousands of years ago in South America, ancient Andean artists happened upon an extremely vivid red dye: cochineal. The use of cochineal continues today, along with lots of controversy.