November 01, 2009

Nazca cut trees, other Natives didn't

Peru's Nazca culture was brought down with its trees

Deforestation left nothing to hinder ancient floodwaters on the desert plain, researchers find. Modern Peru could learn from the civilization's collapse, they say.

By Thomas H. Maugh II
The Nazca people of Peru--famous for their huge line drawings on an arid plateau that are fully visible only from the air--set the stage for their demise by deforesting the plain, allowing a huge El Niño-fueled flood to ravage the Ica Valley about AD 500, researchers have found.

"They died out because they destroyed their natural ecosystem," said archaeologist Alex J. Chepstow-Lusty of the French Institute of Andean Studies in Lima, coauthor of a paper in the current issue of Latin American Antiquity. "As the population expanded, they put in too many fields and didn't protect the landscape. The El Niño wiped away society."

Chepstow-Lusty, David Beresford-Jones of the University of Cambridge and their colleagues used pollen in the soil to trace the horticultural history of the valley, revealing environmental depredation.
Comment:  In one sense, this is good news. The Nazca unwisely deforested the plain without thinking seven generations ahead. They didn't know the huge El Niño rains were coming. Because of their sheer ignorance, they suffered the consequences.

This is notable because it's the exception that proves the rule. Unlike Western cultures, which routinely deforested the land they "settled," Native cultures usually lived within their means. That the Nazca deforested their land is newsworthy because most Native cultures didn't.

For more on the subject, see Ecological Indian Talk.

Below:  "In the Ica Valley, about 120 miles south of Lima, 'the wind has blown away the topsoil,' one researcher said, 'so that features such as canals that were once cut into the landscape are now standing up above it, preserved in hard calcite.'" (Alex Chepstow-Lusty)

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