From today’s Discovery News story on the Nazca people:

We have important lessons to learn from this ancient civilisation, which exposed itself to floods after chopping down thousand year old trees in order to make way for agriculture.

Best known for carving in the Peruvian desert hundreds of geometric lines and images of animals and birds that are fully visible from the air, the Nazca slid into oblivion by the time the Inca Empire rose to dominate the Andes.

“It was not just that they were hit by a huge mega El Niño in about AD 500, but that they had already cleared their forests of huarango, a tree that lives in highly arid zones and stabilizes the soil with some of the deepest roots of any tree known,” Alex J. Chepstow-Lusty of the French Institute of Andean Studies in Lima, told Discovery News.

Basically, the Nazca could have survived the devastating El Nino floods had they kept their forests alive. Without the huarango trees to cushion that major event, the Nazca land was soon turned into an empty desert.

A similar scenario threatens Peru as few remaining pockets of old-growth huarango trees on the south coast are being cleared by illegal charcoal burning.

Want to know more about the remarkable huarango tree and the Nazca land? Just watch this video: