A new study shows that pre-Columbian peoples living on the coast of Peru had a profound impact on the shoreline environment– an impact that the Spanish changed. Usually when one thinks about the myriad changes brought about by the arrival of the Spanish in Peru, language, culture, and religion are some of the first things that are brought up. However, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America has some surprising information about drastic changes to the Peruvian shoreline made by the conquistadors.
Well, to be more precise, it seems that the conquest may have undone some changes that native Peruvians made to the shoreline.
ScienceMag.org explains: “Before the Spaniards arrived, inhabitants of the arid northern Peruvian coast clad massive sand dune–like ridges with an accidental form of ‘armor’: millions of discarded mollusk shells [garbage], which protected the ridges from erosion for nearly 4700 years and produced a vast corrugated landscape that ‘is visible from space,’ says archaeologist Dan Sandweiss of the University of Maine, Orono, one of the paper’s authors.”
But after the conquest, the people who unintentionally protected their shorelines from erosion were decimated by disease and violence. Those who survived were moved inland, ScienceMag.org reports, leaving no one to toss mollusk shells on beach ridges.
Archaeologiust Torben Rick of the Smithsonian told ScienceMag.org that the study highlights “the very blurry divide between the natural world and the cultural world.”