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?
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.
Celebrations of the Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, involve traditions to remember and honor deceased family members and friends. In this post we examine a few customs around death, beginning with the mummification practices of ancient Andeans and ending with a street parade in Mexico City, inspired by the death-defying feats of James Bond.
Machu Picchu is truly one of the wonders of the world. The spectacular ridge-top site of this city and the fine masonry of royal Inca buildings are stunning aesthetic and technical accomplishments. Early Spanish chroniclers reported "molten gold" was used as mortar during stone block construction, and a research paper by a chemist presents some intriguing insights.
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.
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.
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.