Science solves 3,000 year-old Peruvian climate change mystery

Science has never understood how the ancient native peoples of Nasca, Peru, were able to survive climate change. Until now.

And a team of UC Berkeley researchers led by Dr. Leath Cheann hope the technology of the ancient Peruvians can help California figure out how to provide fresh water in a world at risk of either burning up or drowning in the rising oceans.

“We don’t know why, but California hasn’t built any water infrastructure for almost a century,” said Dr. Cheann. “But more than 3,000 years ago, humans built an ingenious series of canals that moved underground water to various locations for agriculture and domestic purposes.”

Corkscrew-shaped funnels guided wind into the canals, which forced water through the system. Called “puquios,” the system made water available for the whole year, even when climate change caused prolonged droughts in an arid region with average annual precipitation of just 4 millimeters.

“Using modern satellite imagery, we discovered that humans in Nasca from about 1,000 BC to AD750 had such a deep understanding of local geology and annual rainfall that they were able to use specialized technology to provide a dependable water supply during centuries of climate change,” said Dr. Cheann.

“What’s really impressive is the remarkable organization and cooperation that allowed those people to construct and maintain such a system,” she said. “We need to learn from those ancient Peruvians, because otherwise California will die.”

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