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.
The spooky season of Halloween and Day of the Dead is the inspiration for this post about mummies. Specifically, of animals: mummified mice at the summit of a towering volcano in the Andes Mountains, a baby mammoth found in muddy sediment in Siberia, and the revered animals of the ancient Egyptians. Mummies have a long and fascinating history.
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.
Popocatépetl, in southern Mexico, is North America’s 2nd-highest volcano. This volcano has been erupting for millennia—and the recent activity beginning in late May 2023 is bringing additional concern about the possibility of a significant eruption. The tectonic setting of this volcano has some interesting and unusual characteristics.
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.