March of the Desert Penguins

THE LIFE OF THE arctic penguin has been well represented in films and documentaries in recent years as 4-foot tall emperor penguins have marched across our movie screens. Now new research shows that the ancestors of these modern-day giants, were larger, sturdier and lived in the deserts of Peru during one of the warmest periods…

The Devil Gardener

DEEP IN the Peruvian Amazon a mystery tantalizes travelers and locals alike: Who fashions the random forest clearings in which only one species of tree grows and little jungle debris litters the forest floor? Local people believe that an evil forest spirit called the Chuyachaqui creates these clearings. The Chuyachaqui  is also said to change…

Trophy Heads: Understanding the Nasca

AN EXPANSIVE collection of skulls from defeated enemies symbolized power in many early societies. The Jivaro tribe in the Amazon would remove skulls and shrink soft tissue to make “shrunken heads.” The Munduruchu of Brazil decapitated fallen enemies and elaborately prepared the heads for display. But the skulls collected 2,000 to 1,500 years ago by…

The Staff God: An Ancient Mystery

IN 2003 RESEARCHERS in Peru’s Patavilca River Valley uncovered a 4,000 year-old-gourd fragment that appears to be the oldest identifiable religious icon in the Americas. The fragment bears the image of the Staff God, which was the main religious figure in South America until the Europeans arrived in 1532. Radiocarbon dating of the gourd to…