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?
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.
Safeguarding ancient Egyptian cultural treasures in the 1960s laid the groundwork for the UNESCO World Heritage Site program. These designations provide protections for places having outstanding cultural and natural heritage. Both Egypt and Peru have fabulous archaeological sites with World Heritage designations, and I’ve had the good fortune to see many. I hope to visit World Heritage Sites in many other countries.
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.
In the past century, manufacturing nitrogen fertilizers with ammonia has been explosive (even literally...). Increases in crop production from manufactured fertilizers have benefited tens of millions of people. Unfortunately, this fertilizer produces tremendous waste in an inefficient process that is highly polluting; we could lower global use with alternative methods. Over 500 years ago, the Incas implemented laws to conserve their valuable guano fertilizer.
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.
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.
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.