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.
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.
Machu Picchu, the Inca citadel high on a ridge in the Andes Mountains, is one of the most impressive and widely recognized archaeological sites on Earth. Since I am fascinated by this spectacular place, I’ve written about it in several blog posts. In a new article I’ve focused on the geology – and this is posted on a website called "GondwanaTalks".
The Inca, Tiwanaku, Moche, Chavín, and many other indigenous Andean cultures used a variety of plant-based drugs – including hallucinogens and narcotics -- in their religious rituals. When the ancient people ingested what they considered to be sacred plants, access to a separate realm – a supernatural world – could be reliably achieved.
Hundreds of years before the Inca Empire rose to fame and glory, the Tiwanaku culture flourished in cold and thin air in the Andes Mountains....Collecting and transporting heavy stone blocks from distant quarries were among the many impressive accomplishments of the Tiwanaku people.