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No. 37: Jan-Feb 1985

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A DISASTER-DRIVEN EARLY CIVILIZATION

Archeologists had long recognized the existence of a highly sophisticated early civilization in the Cauca Valley region stretching 550 miles from southern Ecuador into Columbia. This civilization produced a distinctive pottery and spectacular gold artifacts. It was obviously a highly advanced culture, technologically and socially. But it was dated at 400-800 AD; and for this period in South American history these accomplishments did not seem out of line. Recently, though, additional evidence of this civilization was discovered beneath a datable volcanic ash. The new dates for this civilization are 600-1,500 BC, putting it about 1,000 years ahead of Maya and Inca achievements. The "digs" show further that this culture was frequently beset by devastating outbursts of volcanic activity, which often rendered large areas of land uninhabitable. Rather than suppressing this remarkable culture, Donald Lathrap, a University of Illinois archeologist, says:

"Those disasters pushed people from the region and led to upward leaps in social evolution..."

(Anonymous; "Key to a Vanished Empire," San Francisco Chronicle, June 14, 1984. Cr. J. Covey.)

Comment. The reaction of this early society of advanced organisms to environmental stress seems a perfect introduction to several items that follow on how cells and other species respond to stresses from without.

From Science Frontiers #37, JAN-FEB 1985. 1985-2000 William R. Corliss