Bright blue ponds looming out of the red desert landscape near Moab, Utah, recently prompted my interest in the potash harvested from the pools. The potassium-bearing contents of the ponds will become a key ingredient of synthetic fertilizers. These are essential to feed the growing population on our planet, but fertilizer components are not in infinite supply, plus are causing many environmental problems.
Ancient Moche artists created an exceptional level of ceramic art over 1,500 years ago when this culture prospered along the arid north coast of Peru. They produced realistic three-dimensional ceramic forms of people and animals, and they decorated vessels with exquisite fine-line drawings. Several aspects of Moche ceramics recently caught my interest, especially the realistic ceramic animals and the drawings of supernatural creatures.
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.
Dogs have been human companions for thousands of years. As the first animal species domesticated, dogs altered human relationships with the natural world and profoundly influenced the course of early human history. New data indicate that dogs most likely accompanied the first explorers as they traveled southward from Siberia and fanned out across the Americas.
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.
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.
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.
Rich deposits of metals, created by the dynamic geologic environment that built the rugged Andes Mountains, became intertwined with Andean cultures in the New World. The Incas and their ancestors created metal products primarily for aesthetic uses and for religious goods. This contrasts with Old World cultures, where the emphasis was on the mechanical properties of metals -- strength, hardness and sharpness—for tools and weapons.
The faces of our ancient ancestors are fascinating. Andean art includes portrait head vessels of high-status men created by the Moche culture that flourished along the north coast of Peru some 2,000 years ago. There is careful rendering of nose shapes, chins and other distinctive details of appearance and personality.
Gold and silver metals provided an essential symbolic link between the Incas and the cosmos. Gold was associated with the Sun in the Inca world, and sometimes known as the “sweat of the sun.” The [...]