Better days

In finding lessons to strengthen the present and ensure the future, scientists around the world are looking to the past. Perhaps the path to better days does lie hidden in times long gone.

There’s a hubbub about Caral, an ancient city in Peru named for the Caral people who built it some 5,000 years ago. Also known as the Norte Chico civilization, the city is full of architectural features such as amphitheaters and below-ground channels amazing, according to the International Union of Architects, for their level of sophistication. The architects now tout Caral as an exemplar of sustainable life in harmony with nature, Agence France-Presse reported.

Respected Peruvian architect Jose Arispe marveled at the advanced intelligence and science applied especially in engineering in Caral: “We turn to the past to see how civilization was organized 5,000 years ago, thinking about their commitment to nature, their cosmic vision… We are rediscovering the work of architects and engineers at the time, when there were no instruments like the level or plumb line. It’s high engineering.”

As in the traces of other ancient civilizations, the Caral ruins show how early societies lived in harmony with nature—a major lesson to learn in this age of climate change and the dangers humankind faces with global warming and the melting of the glaciers.

Caral is not alone in itself. Highly advanced cities flourished in the Indus Valley in the 20th century BC. These “Bronze Age megacities,” noted The Independent’s David Keys, boasted populations in the hundreds of thousands.

But like all great civilizations, the Indus Valley cities found in what are now India and Pakistan grew to the point where their natural resources could not support them. The University of Cambridge and Banaras Hindu University determined that a terrible drought that lasted 200 years ultimately doomed not only those Indus cities but the entirety of the Akkadian Empire, the old Kingdom of Egypt and early Greek civilizations.

“Our evidence suggests that it was the most intense period of drought—probably due to frequent monsoon failure in the 5,000-year-long period we have examined,” said David Hodell, a paleoclimatologist from Cambridge.

Even Caral did not survive a drought of its own, leading its inhabitants to flee.

But again, like other such civilizations, Caral thrived primarily because of its people’s far-sighted approach to living with, and not against, nature. It did not know war as its people did not use weapons or built walls to deter invaders. “It was a peaceful culture and serves as a reference for future generations,” Arispe said.

Modern-day peoples can do worse than to learn how the societies of old understood that a better life depended on living in sync with the planet instead of leeching it dry. “[Caral] is a civilization that achieved splendor and prestige,” says Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady. “That’s the message for the world: We can live in harmony with nature to protect the planet and have respectful, peaceful relations with other cultures.”