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Pre-Columbian America Facts

"To us the Aztec universe may appear irrational, terrifying, murderous in its brutality; and yet it is a mirror held up to our humanity which we ignore at our cost. For in the name of other ideals and other gods Western culture has been no less addicted to killing, even in our own century." —Michael Wood

In the Pampa Colorada (Red Plain) in the Peruvian Desert, there are large line-drawings of geometric shapes, animals and plants on the desert soil. These drawings are known as the Nazca lines. These were likely drawn by the Nazca Indians approximately 2,000 years ago. These figures are only fully comprehensible from the air. In fact, in 1937, before flight was commonplace, a highway was constructed through the Nazca lines, as no-one was yet aware of the lines' significance. It is unknown how the drawers achieved such geometrical precision in their art, or why they would draw figures that they could not view. (source)

View more facts about: Ancient People | Strange But True

The Nazca lines in Peru are not the only pre-Columbian drawings only visible from the sky to be found in North America. In the southeastern California desert near Blythe is a 167-foot-long figure of a man. Other figures were visible before World War II, until Blythe was used as a military training area and tanks and other vehicles obliterated many of them. Dating methods have dated the figures to around the year 900, give or take 100 years. Interestingly enough, one of the remaining figures appears to look like a horse, but the horse was not present in North America around that time. (source)

View more facts about: Strange But True

The name Inca originally did not refer to a race or a nation. When Francisco Pizarro came to South America in 1532, Inca meant "king" or "ruler".

In terms of volume, the largest pyramid in the world is in Mexico, not Egypt. Called the Cholula Pyramid (sometimes referred to as Quetzalcoatl), it was built around the year 100 at what is now Cholula de Rivadahia (near Puebla) from sun-dried brick and earth. Although only 177 feet high, less than 40% of the height of Egypt's Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu) at Giza, it covers an area of 39.5 acres. In contrast, the Great Pyramid is 480 feet high but covers an area of only 13 acres. It has been estimated that the Mexican pyramid has a volume of 4,300,000 cubic yards as compared with the Great Pyramid's 3,360,000 cubic yards. (source)

View more facts about: Ancient Egypt

According to some interpretations of the Mayan "long count" linear calendar, the end of the world was to have happened in 2012.

View more facts about: Calendars | Strange Predictions

The number 10 is used as a convenient base to count with, but the Gauls of ancient France, the Mayas of Central America, and other peoples used a base of 20. The Sumerians, the Babylonians, and others after them used a base of 60—convenient because 60 can be evenly divided by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, and 30. The use of base 60 survives in the division of hours into minutes and minutes into seconds, and the division of the circle into 360 (60 × 6) degrees. (source)

View more facts about: Ancient People | Numbers and Measurement

The Toltecs, a 7th century people who lived in what is now Mexico, used wooden swords when going to war so as not to harm their enemies.

Having lasted for six centuries, the civilisation known as Classic Mayan culture collapsed abruptly in the ninth century, for reasons still not yet understood. Several theories have been proposed, such as an epidemic, natural disaster, civil war, invasion, poor farming methods leading to exhaustion of the soil, or climate change resulting from clear-cutting. The collapse occurred quite quickly. Within about a century, inscriptions ceased to be carved at every Mayan city, and the Mayan population shrank by about ⅔ over the span of a century. (source)

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The ancient Mayan calendar was more accurate than the modern Gregorian calendar. While the Gregorian calendar gains three days in 10,000 years, the Mayan calendar loses only two days every 10,000 years.

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Some Mayan medical knowledge may be superior to that of conventional western medicine. For example, the Mayan herb used to treat athlete's foot can kill the bacteria completely, while the modern medicine reduces the discomfort and reduces the bacteria count.

View more facts about: Medicine and Health

In Mesoamerica, where there were no draught animals, slaves were often used as porters. (source)

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The sole surviving written record of Mayan history is three codices written in hieroglyphs on bark paper. All three are now held in European cities.

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In 1541, in the city of Mani on the Yucatan Peninsula, the Franciscan monk Diego de Landa burned the books of the Maya, and so permanently destroyed the priceless record of a great civilisation. De Landa seems to have later realised his crime and spent the rest of his life collecting accounts of the Mayan civilisation from survivors. However, it was not for another four centuries that Mayan hieroglyphs were deciphered, based on de Landa's work but with the insight that each character represents a syllable, not a letter. (source)

The Vikings established a colony on the southwestern coast of Greenland that lasted around four centuries, from 982 to nearly 1400. The colonists routinely sailed to North America to get wood, as there were no trees on Greenland, long before Columbus "discovered" America. In the late 1300s, the Black Death ravaged the colony, Eskimos attacked, and the climate grew colder, and the colonists finally either died out or left. (source)

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Viking graves have turned up artifacts from as far away as North America and India, demonstrating the extent of their trading networks.

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When Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City) was invaded by Cortez in 1519, it was a flower-covered, whitewashed city that was five times the size of London at the time. (source)

The Incas, experts at organisation and engineering, did not have wheels, arches, or writing. At the height of their power, before the Spanish conquest in 1532, the Incas ruled the entire area in South America from Quito, Ecuador, to the Rio Maule, Chile. Their empire was centred at Cuzco, Peru. (source)

The Inca had no iron prior to the Spanish conquests in South America. However, they had a relatively large quantity of gold, so they used it not just for decoration but also to make everyday objects like nails, combs, eating utensils, and eyebrow tweezers.

The Vikings founded a settlement in North America almost 500 years before Columbus "discovered" the New World. In the year 1000, Leif Ericson, son of Eric the Red, sailed from Greenland on an epic westward voyage that took him past "Helluland" (likely Baffin Island) and "Markland" (likely Labrador) to a land called "Vinland" (modern-day Newfoundland). The Vikings later founded a colony on Vinland, near what is now the fishing village of L'anse-aux-Meadows. However, the Vikings soon discovered that the lands were already inhabited by "Skraelings" (likely Eskimos), who were often hostile. After a few years, the first European colony in the New World was abandoned and the colonists sailed home. (source)

View more facts about: Exploration | Vikings

Stone carvings dated between 500 and 1000 A.D. have been found in West Virginia that appear to have been written in Old Irish using the Ogham alphabet. Perhaps they were carved by Irish missionaries in the wake of St. Brendan the Navigator's possible voyage to the new world. (source)

View more facts about: Exploration

On November 8, 1898, Olof Ohmann found a slab of rock weighing 202 pounds entwined in the roots of a 40-year-old poplar while clearing a field in Kensington, Minnesota. While controversy exists about the authenticity of the stone, it appears to contain a runic text, written in authentic 14th-century Swedish, describing an expedition of Gotlanders and Norseman to this part of North America. (source)

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Much has been said about the value of Incan gold, but one of the great legacies of the Incas was food plants. The potato, the pumpkin, and the pineapple came from South America and spread through the world. Coca, the source of cocaine, and cinchona, the source of quinine, are also gifts of Peruvian civilisation to mankind.

View more facts about: Plants | Food and Drink

Americans who chew gum are partly responsible for the development of Mayan studies. Workers entering the jungle to collect chickle, the sap of the sapodilla tree from which chewing gum is made, have stumbled on numerous vegetation-covered ruins and returned to alert the archaeologists.

The Spanish inquisitor Torquemada once wrote that, during Montezuma's reign over the Aztecs, Alonzo de Ojeda was intrigued by a pile of bulging sacks in an inconspicuous corner of the palace. Thinking that it might contain gold dust, he opened it, only to find that it contained lice instead. When the boy questioned the royal advisers, he was told that the poorest Aztec peasants had no gold to offer the king, and so collected the lice they removed from their bodies and set them aside. Once they had enough for a respectable offering, they filled a bag with them and offered it to their emperor. (source)

Inca stonework is characterized by the use of very large stones, some larger than 100 tons, that are fitted together without mortar so precisely that a knife blade cannot be inserted between the joints. It is still not know for certain how the Incas transported the large stones used in some of their stonework. (source)

The Incas built a stone wall over 150 miles long in modern-day Bolivia. Called the Great Wall of the Incas, this wall was built at altitudes of 8,000 to 12,000 feet in very rugged terrain. (source)

The Royal Road of the Incas, built in the 15th century, is the oldest road in the Americas still in use. It is around 3,600 kilometres long, running from Quito, Ecuador to Cuzco, Peru. There are two different routes: One mountainous and one coastal. (source)

When the Spanish conquistadors first reached Peru, centre of the Inca empire, the Peruvian Indians felt the Spanish horses to be ferocious and deadly monsters, there being no horses native to the Americas. Through an interpreter, they asked the Spanish cavalrymen what these animals ate. In response, the Spaniards, pointing to the gold jewellery and ornaments of the Peruvians, said, "They eat those things of yellow metal. They are hungry now but do not wish to be seen eating. Leave the food in front of them and go away." The Indians gathered some gold objects for the horses. After they had left, the Spanish pocketed the gold, and then, calling back the Indians, told them that the horses were still hungry and needed more food. (source)

View more facts about: Animals | Hoaxes and Deceptions
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