When the words “ancient Peru” are mentioned, images of Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines come to mind. But Peru is built upon millennia of cultures and their histories.
The traces they left behind may not be as big as lost cities, but they are no less rare and mysterious. New mummies are breaking old beliefs and revealing new civilizations. Settlements show the realities of the time, invasions, brutal leadership, and even blood sacrifices from otherwise advanced people.
10The Inca Tree
It was one of those discoveries that surprised everyone because the treewas large and everywhere. Researchers noticed the tall specimens for some time—some grew up to 30 meters (100 ft) tall—but only realized in 2017 that this was a whole new kind of rubber tree.
Relatives to this newcomer include poinsettias and other latex-leaking plants from the spurge family. But the latest addition is truly special—a new genus had to be created to fit the species. It is like finding oak or cabbage for the first time.
Called Incadendron esseri (“Esser’s tree of the Inca”), they are a common sight along the Trocha Union, an old Inca road in Peru. The canopy tree carpets the landscape from southern Peru to Ecuador.
Scientists do not fully understand why it appears to be so successful in a harsh environment. But the 0.6-meter-thick (2 ft) Incadendron is susceptible to the planet’s rising temperatures and deforestation.
Around three centuries before the Incas arrived in Peru, the Collagua began to press their skulls into long shapes. This tradition began around AD 1300 and lasted for hundreds of years.
But skull squashing was not for everyone. In a bid to discover why anyone would deform their children’s heads, a recent study looked at 211 skulls from two Collagua graveyards. It concluded that the cone people were mostly from elite graves. More surprisingly, skull binding did not develop overnight but was refined over many generations.
Starting in infancy, boards and cloth were used to press the head into increasingly narrow points. Researchers suspect that there was a bond between individuals who looked different from the norm—and that this united leadership was crucial to their survival against the Incas.
The latter arrived in 1450. But instead of going to war, the Collagua elite could have decided to be drawn peacefully into the powerful Inca Empire. Even so, nobody knows what happened to the Collaguas in the end. Similar to their neighbors, the Cavanas, they disappeared.