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?
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.
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.
The demand for lithium is increasing dramatically – and sources of this metal are being sought from the high elevations of the Andes Mountains to the lowlands of Australia. Lithium is widely distributed on our planet, but since concentrations of this metal are typically quite low, relatively few ores that are economical to mine have been found to date. There are currently three major sources.
The demand for lithium is growing rapidly -- and the "Lithium Triangle" in the Andes Mountains encompass a significant source of this metal. Lithium-ion batteries are essential for powering electronics, electric vehicles, and for storing energy produced by the wind and sun. The future of lithium is truly “electrifying”!
Geologists love to have a bird’s eye view of landscapes. They are helpful for all types of research - tracing active faults and identifying copper ore deposits among them. In this post there are two stories about geology fieldwork - one about earthquakes in Egypt and the other about copper in Chile, tied together by arid landscapes and helicopters.
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.