Sunday, November 1, 2009

Nazcas' destruction of forests caused downfall

An ancient civilisation brought about its own demise by destroying forests which kept its delicate ecosystem in balance according to researchers who claim the discovery has important implications for the modern world. 

Nazca Lines, Peru. NASA Earth Observatory

Archaeologists examining the remains of the Nazca, who once flourished in the valleys of south coastal Peru, discovered a sequence of human-induced events which led to their ''catastrophic'' collapse around 500 AD.

The Nazca civilisation, noted for creating vast patterns in the desert that can only be seen from the air, disappeared partly because it damaged the fragile ecosystem that held it in place, a study found.

Author Oliver Whaley, of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said: ''The mistakes of prehistory offer us important lessons for our management of fragile, arid areas in the present.''

In the study published in the journal Latin American Antiquity, the researchers found that the Nazca cleared areas of forest to make way for their own agriculture over the course of many generations.

In doing so, the huarango tree, which once covered what is now a desert area, was gradually replaced by crops such as cotton and maize.

But the tree was crucial to the desert's fragile ecosystem as it enhanced soil fertility and moisture and helped to hold the Nasca's narrow, vulnerable irrigation channels in place, the researchers said.

The Nazca eventually cut down so many trees that they reached a tipping point at which the arid ecosystem was irreversibly damaged. …

Nazcas' destruction of forests caused downfall

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