Overuse of natural resources ’caused Nazca collapse’

Climate Change / Peak Oil

Back when I was in High School and the works of Eric Von Daniken were still new and popular, I was fascinated by the mysterious works of the Nazca people in Peru. Von Daniken claimed that the giant figures that the Nazca people carved into the plateaus of Peru were meant to be seen by alien spaceships. (A bit of a reach perhaps, but if you know Von Daniken’s work, exactly what you’d expect.)

But what made the lines so much more mysterious was the fact that the people who had made them apparently disappeared without a trace soon after. If Von Daniken was to be believed, something I was willing to do as a sophomore in High School, perhaps the alien arks had been in fact summoned and the people of the Plains of Nazca returned to the stars.

Turns out the explanation is much less poetic. But ultimately more important to us today. According to a new study, a team of archeologists have found that the civilization that created the enormous figures on the plains died off because they over consumed the limited natural resources they depended on.

A report on the BBC site explains:

“Analysing plant remains [the archeological team] reveal how the destruction of forests containing the huarango tree crossed a tipping point, causing ecological collapse.

The team have published their findings in the journal of Latin American Antiquity.

‘These were very special forests,’ says Dr David Beresford-Jones from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, UK who led the team.

The huarango tree (Prosopis pallida) is a unique tree with many qualities and played a vital role in the habitat, protecting the fragile desert ecosystem, the scientists say.”

Read the full article here.

Over logging these trees destroyed the environmental balance that the people depended on to be able to live in the hostile environment.

One wonders how much longer we have until we reach a similar tipping point in regions of the earth that are carrying far more than the normal capacity because of our use of high-energy storage resources like oil and coal. Or until our over logging of forests too drastically reduces the environments ability to sequester sufficient carbon dioxide that might cause a runaway greenhouse effect.

More information on this story here on one of the Discovery Magazine’s blogs.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. John Borrego says

    In his book “Collapse,” Jared Diamond explores the causes for the collapse of several societies, including the Maya, the Norse in Greenland, Easter Island, and others. He also looks at societies that have survived in areas of marginal resources.
    There are wide differences, of course, among the various cultures. A common denominator is the failure to recognize slow destruction of resources. Another important factor is failure to adapt to ecological change.
    Are we paying attention? Verbum sapienti sat est. The question is, are we “sapient” enough?

  2. Thanks John – I remember hearing of Diamond’s book. I’ve not read it, but I’m going to add it to the ever increasing list that I’m keeping of books that I intend to read.
    So many books, so little time. Sigh.

  3. I am often amazed at the interdependence of humans and nature. All these connections and the way life has evolved together is no small thing. The world has absorbed a lot of abuse by humans and other forces greater than us. It is sobering to think of the breaking point and of our contribution towards that point.

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