For works cited, go online to
later, they built even larger temple mounds at the
center of even more complex sites, but the underlying beliefs and power relations were clearly
different. They worshipped different gods with
different rituals, and secular power and militarism now vied for control with priestly privilege.
From late in the first millennium BC until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in 1532 AD,
different cultures rose and fell in a continuous sequence of ever larger and more populous states
and empires. Catastrophic demographic collapse
happened only then, and was the direct consequence of the conquest.
By correlating the patterns of climatic risk —
El Niño frequency, demography, and social complexity across the Holocene, a fascinating pattern
emerges. As climatic risk increased through time,
so too did population size and social complexity. Only an entirely human disaster — the clash
of two totally distinct cultures with different
aims, understandings, weapons, and diseases —
caused near-total demographic collapse. This is
a case of cultural pattern dissonance. There may
well be lessons here for the modern world and
Dan Sandweiss is professor of anthropology and climate
studiesat the University of Maine, a past president of UMaine’s Phi
Kappa Phi chapter, and northeast regional vice president and a
national board member for Phi Kappa Phi. He is also on the board
of directors of the Society for American Archaeology and chairman
of the R.S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology Advisory Committee.
Dan is an archaeologist whose work centers on prehistoric climate
change (especially El Niño), maritime adaptations, and cultural
change in western South America. He has published his work in
Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and disciplinary
journals in archaeology, geology, and quaternary studies. Before
starting at UMaine, Dan worked with Thor Heyerdahl at the ancient
pyramid center in Túcume, Peru, did a post-doc at the Carnegie
Museum of Natural History, and spent time in Cuba translating a
book on Cuban prehistory and meeting Fidel Castro for coffee. He
was educated at Yale (B.A., archaeology,1979) and Cornell (M.A.
and Ph.D., anthropology, 1983 and 1989). He may be reached at
Kurt Rademaker (Northern Illinois University) excavating shells from a
sixteenth century garbage heap at Magdalena de Cao, Chicama Valley,
northern Peru. This site was occupied after an early Colonial settlement was
devastated by an El Niño flood in 1578.
All photos are courtesy of Dan Sandweiss