Monday, January 18, 2010

A lesson from the past

A few months ago, a research team led by Dr. David Beresford-Jones (Fellow, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge) published some interesting findings in the Latin American Antiquity journal ('The Role of Prosopis in Ecological and Landscape Change in the Samaca Basin, Lower Ica Valley, South Coast Peru from the Early Horizon to the Late Intermediate Period')

Nearly two millennia ago, a civilisation existed in Peru. Their claim to fame was their strange creation of ‘Nazca Lines’ in the desert plains between Nazca and Palpa. Many were the hypotheses behind these bizarre etchings.

In their paper, the research team points out that this civilization was obliterated, around AD 500, as a result of their deforestation activities aimed at clearing away forests for agriculture. Specifically, the annihilation of huarango (Prosopis), an unlikely jack of all trades (providing food, fuel, and timber, apart from nitrogen fixing/recycling and water retention) led to the irreversible calamity. The result: the civilisation could not recover when the climate changed for the worse, helped by an El NiƱo event. Eventually, it all resulted in persistent drought and famine.

A civilisation, thus, met its demise because of their own unsustainable anthropogenic activities. Perhaps their unwise disregard could be excused: after all, they did not possess the knowledge and tools which the current generation has. It may always be tempting for entities (countries/regions/companies/individuals) to make the fullest and pillaging use of the vast resources offered by planet Earth, without remembering that these resources are mostly nonrenewable. Such lucrative ventures may neglect the importance of maintaining the ecosystem, that fragile web of balance where excessive stresses can change and destablise the dynamics. If the planet continues to be maligned and stabbed…. even the optimist shudder to visualise the future.


  1. Why is it that we never learn from history? We cannot repeat this mistake for it is too expensive.

  2. Indeed! I am reminded of how certain areas of the desert in Rajasthan used to be forested too.


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