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Hallucinogens, alcohol and leadership strategies in the ancient Peruvian Andes (cambridge.org)
85 points by benbreen 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 25 comments





The more I read about pre-Columbian societies, the more I bemoan their quick and near-total destruction (by the Spanish and disease). So much culture created by our species about which we will never know.

Might be worthy of note that the society in question disappeared centuries before Pizarro showed up. By all accounts, the Inka (there was only one) was an absolute dictator, and all crimes had the death penalty.

That is not to say there were not also admirable societies, or others that had admirable qualities among their less-so. Humanity is messy everywhere. And, it is tragic that present and future generations will need to re-learn what many of them discovered long ago, what of it is ever rediscovered.

The inhabitants of the Amazon region perfected mixed tropical tree agriculture compatible with annual flooding, starting more than 10,000 years ago. Their society may have taken a huge hit from diseases brought by Africans early in the 14th century; archaeology reports a major bump of re-forestation about then. But it must have been diseases the Spaniards brought that permanently wiped out the whole Amazon civilization.

The entheogenic drug protocols invented there, plus chocolate, manioc, and sweet potato are about all we have left of that civilization.


> it must have been diseases the Spaniards brought that permanently wiped out the whole Amazon civilization.

The Spaniards didn't go deep into the Amazon. It was possible to hide from them in the jungle, which is thousands of miles deep.

The whole Amazon civilisation was not wiped out.

It took a giant hit in the early 20th century when the automobile industry required rubber for tires, which it got by enslaving and brutally murdering indigenous Amazonians.

Then later in the 20th century vast tracts of the Amazon were converted into coffee farms. The habitat loss decimated indigenous Amazonians, but it hasn't wiped them out.


> The Spaniards didn't go deep into the Amazon. It was possible to hide from them in the jungle, which is thousands of miles deep.

Diseases spread quickly among populations. By the time the spanish showed up, the incas were already in a crisis in part due to european diseases, which were brought there by trade.

There absolutely weren't big amazonian civilizations by the early 20th century, and there hadn't been any for a long time by that point.


Not sure what you mean by "big Amazonian civilisations".

It's full of trees. People traditionally live in small villages.

There are no roads.

The Inca didn't live in the jungle. The administrative, political and military center of the empire was in the city of Cusco. The Inca civilization arose from the Peruvian highlands.


You have a great deal to learn about the prehistory of South American civilization. (So do we all.)

Before old-world explorers showed up, the Amazon population was on the order of 100 million. Most of Amazon jungle was, essentially, a big orchard. We find remains of elevated causeways tens of miles long, evidently for getting around during flood times, and levees and berms to retain water long after the flood receded. The dominant trees today all show evidence of domestication.

10,000 years ago they were already well along with their tree breeding program. The Amazon basin never froze, so people living there were able to start civilization well ahead of people in temperate areas. The main mystery is why it started as late as it did, and not 100,000 years earlier.


> Most of Amazon jungle was, essentially, a big orchard.

What is your understanding of the word "orchard"?

What is your understanding of the word "jungle"?

> You have a great deal to learn about the prehistory of South American civilization.

I am always interested to investigate and learn. Could you link to a source for the estimate of 100 million Amazonian jungle inhabitants?


Jungle is what we have left of the Amazon flora that has not been cleared for pasture or oilseed.

An orchard is a collection of trees cultivated for their product. Their orchards, unlike those we keep, had a mix of different, complementary species. Tribes in the Pacific Northwest, approximately British Columbia today, also farmed trees this way. Those orchards are distinctive in maintaining their characteristic species mix, untended, into the present.

It is hard to say how much of the "modern" avoidance of multi-cropping traces back to biblical injunction. Nowadays people are likely to blame mechanization and difficulty of making machines compatible with such a practice, but that might be a sort of "just-so" story.

You will need to exercise your google-fu to bring up publications, mostly in the last 10 years. I suggest starting with "pre-columbian amazonian civilization".


> Before old-world explorers showed up, the Amazon population was on the order of 100 million.

I have not seen any estimate this high even for the total population of the Americas at this time.


> The main mystery is why it started as late as it did, and not 100,000 years earlier.

Well, there were no humans in the americas 100,000 years ago, for a start.


But there were people, and tropics, and people in the tropics. Africa, for example, and Sundaland (mountaintops of which are now Indonesia).

We don't know there weren't people in the Americas then. We have good evidence somebody butchered a mastodon near what is now San Diego, what, 130kya? Might have been H. erectus, they really got around. Any way probably not H. sap.


Graeber’s new work, Dawn of Everything, is the latest fascinating read on this. It thoroughly discredits trendy tellings of human history like you’ll find in Sapiens, Jared Diamond, Fukuyama, which simply don’t reflect recent research (and old research reevaluated)

A book I liked that intersects with drugs, history, and South America was "Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography" by Dominic Streatfeild.

The other day I learned Graeber passed away in September 2020 [1]:

> Graeber was married to artist Nika Dubrovsky. He died unexpectedly in September 2020, while on vacation in Venice. His last book, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, co-written with archaeologist David Wengrow, was published posthumously in 2021.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Graeber


GG&S came out like 20+ years ago though right? I’d hope we’ve updated our knowledge a bit since diamond’s work released!

I’ll have to check out Graeber’s work. Thanks for the recc!


It’s not about an update, it’s turning that whole lineage of understanding on its head. Pairs well with Mark Fisher’s capitalist realism concept regardless of your politics

GG&S is basically a religious book given the narrative it’s trying to enforce. It’s extreme blank-slatism.

It was pretty awful 20 years ago and looks even worse now.


Graeber casts a far wider net around the colonialist/capitalist interpretation of native history that produced works like GG&S

Just purchased it. Capitalist Realism is great as well.

every Fisher writing is gold

This is the part I find hard to believe without evidence of modern replication using fermented beverages:

“These psychotropic effects are possible because the beta-carbolines typically produced during fermentation can suppress the MAO enzymes.”

I don’t believe the suppression of MAO enzymes is strong enough to allow oral consumption with notable effects. You would assume that if MAO enzymes were being suppressed to any significant levels by alcoholic beverages we would have many more issues with diet and drug interactions with everyday drinking.


You make what I would call a poor assumption that people, on average, can tell when they're under mild medical duress.

There are people who walk around until they suddenly have a child, or die of an organ failing, and have no idea up til that point.


So, basically we could all be on acid 24/7 and not notice, as long as everyone else was tripping. That's gotta make you wonder what existence is all about.

Not....quite?

But we could be vitamin deficient, in various columns.

We could be having low-level allergic reactions, caused by environmental factors we're too busy (or dumb?, sometimes?) to correlate right away.

We could have an infection, or a cancer, hollowing out a part of our body, and not quite know what that feels like.

Tons of things like that.


A lot of us could be on opioids, but we'd know it. There's just not a lot we could do about it.



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