Ancient civilizations can feel so far away in the past that it can sometimes be hard to imagine that they were people too – just like us. And while they may have lived quite a bit differently from us in some ways, in many other ways they were just like us, and these recent findings from the Atacama Desert go a long way toward helping us understand our genetic ancestors.
The Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth, and is so foreign and otherworldly that researchers use it to prep astronauts for crewed missions to Mars. Thousands of years ago (2450-2250 B.C.E.), though, it was home to a society of hunter-gatherers that had seriously good taste in jewels, food, and even drugs.
A group of Chilean and French archaeologists have been exploring an ancient ceremonial complex there known as Tulan-52, and recently published some of their findings in Antiquity. They claim that the complex appears to have been important religious and ceremonial hub at the dawn of the Neolithic era, and shared many similarities with a newer complex less than a mile away, Tulan-54.
That means Tulan-52 could have been a prototype of sorts, and suggests a long-lasting set of traditions among the people in the area.
“The stone structures share similar basic construction patterns with vertical slabs embedded in sterile ground of over earlier occupational refuse,” the study continues. “At both sites, the structures are built with large vertical and capping slabs, but to 5 feet in height.”
Both sites are home to impressive artifacts, including gold, exotic materials like obsidian volcanic glass and seashells, gemstones, and grinding slabs that suggest the people used powerful hallucinogens during rituals and ceremonies.
The scientists have also recovered bones and skeletal remains from animals and children.
So, maybe we’re not big on animal (or human) sacrifice anymore, but there’s no arguing that humans still enjoy shiny things and party drugs when getting together to celebrate life – whether it’s a promotion at work or a bountiful harvest, I’m guessing.
The next time you and your friends are raising a glass, you can rest assured that you’re carrying on a tradition that connects us to people who lived thousands and thousands of years ago, even in one of the most hostile places on Earth.