For thousands of years the ancient Andean people revered gold and created exquisite gold art objects. This ultimately led to the fall of the Inca Empire when the metal lured Spanish conquistadores high into the Andes. Gold continues to be mined today, with adverse consequences for the environment and many Andean people.
The Andes Mountains influence the modern world in many ways, and recognizing these is a fascinating aspect of my journey in writing about this region. One connection that might be a surprise: St Patrick’s Day celebrations–and potatoes. Potatoes have had profound effects on human societies that are matched by few other plants.
We recognize an extremely long and rich tradition of fiber arts from the Andes Mountains -- possibly the longest continuous history of fiber use found on earth. From exquisite embroidered shrouds used to wrap mummies many thousands of years ago, to the finely woven tapestry tunics worn by Inca royalty, the artistry of these textiles is exceptional.
El Niños, the warm phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate pattern, could be devastating for ancient Andean societies. Direct evidence of these events is scarce, but clever archaeological sleuthing has revealed details of event recurrence – and desperate measures taken by authorities to stop destructive flooding.
El Niño and La Niña weather patterns profoundly affect human societies – today, as well as during the past few thousands of years, especially in the strongly affected Peruvian Andes. Both are part of the climate pattern named the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
From maize-based chicha, or corn beer, in the Andes Mountains, to mead from honey in ancient Greece, and wine from grapes in Predynastic Egypt, fermented beverages have been a part of cultural rituals for many thousands of years. Celebrations that include copious amounts of alcoholic drinks and specially prepared foods have been widely practiced in numerous cultures over time.
Five hundred years ago the Inca Empire stretched across the Andes Mountains of South America, encompassing arid coastal deserts, snow-covered mountains, and humid rainforests.... Since the empire fell in the 16th century, there is something that no subsequent government ruling over this territory has successfully achieved.
High in the Andes Mountains, the archaeological site of Moray holds many mysteries. Starting with natural sinkholes, Inca builders lined a set of huge circular depressions with concentric terraces. Constructing Moray required tremendous engineering skill and thousands of hours of construction efforts, so why was it built?
The Incas were accomplished engineers who built long-lasting structures, from Machu Pichu on a ridgetop to the Inca Road system along the spine of the Andes Mountains. A sculpted landscape masterpiece that is less well known is a set of large circular depressions lined with concentric rings of stone-lined terraces. Named Moray and located on a high plain about 20 miles northwest of Cusco, these circles began as deep natural sinkholes with unstable slopes at the angle of repose.
Maize (aka corn) was considered a sacred plant by the Inca, Tiwanaku, Moche and many other ancient Andean cultures. In the Andes Mountains, for millennia the principal use of this plant has been to make an alcoholic beverage called chicha. This beverage was so important to the social and economic functioning of ancient Andean societies that when there was a major disruption in the flow of maize, it helped to trigger the collapse of at least one society that had flourished for hundreds of years.