When we came home to our birthplace we thought we were superior beings

As referred to in some of my previous blogs, the supercontinent which has been named Gondwana existed from the Neoproterozoic (about 550 million years ago) until the Jurassic (about 180 million years ago).

The remnants of Gondwana make up about two thirds of today’s continental area, including South America, Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Indian Subcontinent and Arabia.

In my previous blog the theme was Latin America focussing on Argentina and Chile. This blog will highlight the geological results of earth upheavals around 150 million years ago (the landmass which is now Latin America broke away around 180 million years ago).

As with the Atacama Desert of Chile, there is another famous, though not as large, desert in Southern Africa called the Kalahari.

Kalahari is derived from the Tswana word Kgala, meaning “the great thirst”, or Kgalagadi, meaning “a waterless place”; the Kalahari has vast areas covered by red sand without any permanent surface water.

Image of red sand of Kalahari

The San people (see https://youtu.be/I4StMlQC-yA ) are the indigenous nomads, just as the tribes of the Native Americans are in the Americas. They are the Kalahari Bushmen and women and their population remaining in South Africa is around 10,000.

Beautiful pictures of San at https://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com/2013/06/san-bushmen-people-world-most-ancient.html

San music (https://www.dailynative.net/the-music-of-indigenous-peoples-an-example-from-the-kalahari/) “keep their oral traditions alive. They teach their traditions to their kids. Prayers are offered to the earth and the sky. And music is played. That’s right, music! Music is one of the most powerful mediums for expressing grief, resolving tensions, and keeping traditional lifeways and cultural knowledge alive and intact.”

Victor Grauer says “that certain Kalahari Bushmen groups have been in their homeland for thousands of years, just as the genetic evidence establishes their biological indigeneity, thus settling the Kalahari debate firmly on the side of the traditionalists.”

The ancestors of the San (and the entire human race) have been found fossilised around South Africa, many being discovered whilst European/American extensive mining activities across the African landscape took place. For example – see https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/news/science/human-ancestor-that-lived-millions-of-years-ago-was-breastfed-until-12-months-old/17/07/amp/

Our ancient ancestors who left Africa and roamed the world, returned thousands of years later, believing themselves to be explorers, but, in truth, returning to the birthplace of their first ancestors. 

When modern humans started emerging from Africa and spreading throughout Eurasia, they found many places already occupied by older hominids such as Neanderthals and Denisovans. Inter breeding of older and younger hominids created very different DNA to those Africans who had remained within their vast continent. 

Those with changed DNA often considered the black (see Biko and the concept of ‘black’) skin inferior to their lighter skins, and their acquired technology and lifestyles imbued them with a perverse sense of superiority. They were ignorant about evolution and misunderstood their own identity. Human societies have been built around this grave misconception.

Sadly, as the Conquistadors brought death and destruction to the people and landmass of the Americas, so the Europeans (and later, Europeans who became Americans) wrought their misery on Africa and its peoples.

In South Africa the non-whites are still toiling in foreign owned industries with their rights lost to the whites when Mandela’s Charter was twisted to fit the foreign owners and not the majority African population. Even today, the SA government are forced to negotiate short of what is their right to own their own land and its industries in order to lift the population out of interminable years of suffering. (See https://www.thesouthafrican.com/news/revised-mining-charter-south-africa-2018/).

Laws to clean up the environment and make food and water safe from contamination are still not implemented. Compensation for the history of suffering under apartheid is nowhere to be seen.

One place which has proven hard for foreign investors to disrupt is the Kalahari Desert.

In http://geography.name/a-fossil-desert/ the author suggests “The dunes stabilized some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, for reasons climate scientists do not fully understand. Curiously, while the end of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago created many of the modern deserts, in the Kalahari it apparently moderated desert conditions. That massive climate shift made conditions much more harsh in the Sahara and in North America turned grasslands into deserts. But here, the same shift apparently converted a raw sand desert into a semiarid grassland. The explanation probably lies in planetwide shifts in rainfall patterns relating to the accompanying warming, sea level rise, and shifts in trade winds, ocean temperatures, and monsoons. Although the Kalahari remained in a desert-prone latitude hedged in by rain-blocking mountains, enough of an enhanced wet season delivered plenty of rain to greatly soften the desert conditions.”

In http://www.wildland.com/feature/Kalahari_Desert.aspx “the beauty and wild expanses of the Kalahari are hinted at as it stretches across now named countries of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, for a full 360,000 square miles.” 

Across these lands the San would live their nomadic life, but now mostly contained in designated reserves, just as the Native Americans find themselves.

Lying southeast of the Okavango Delta and surrounded by the Kalahari Desert, is the Makgadikgadi, a dried lake, now a salt pan.

“Makgadikgadi is technically not a single pan, but many pans with sandy desert in between, the largest being the Sua (Sowa), Nwetwe and Nxai Pans. The largest individual pan is about 1,900 sq mi (4,921.0 km2). In comparison, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is a single salt flat of 4,100 sq mi (10,619.0 km2), rarely has much water, and is generally claimed to be the world’s largest salt pan. A dry, salty, clay crust most of the year, the pans are seasonally covered with water and grass, and are then a refuge for birds and animals in this very arid part of the world. The climate is hot and dry, but with regular annual rains.”

Image of Makgadikgadi 

Victoria Falls share geology with Makgadikgadi and Kalahari.

Image of Mosi-oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls). Mosi-oa-Tunya lie between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Contrast these natural beauties with scars and toxic waste from mining.

There is no doubt that mineral and mining companies have remained part of the biggest companies in South Africa. See https://www.sibanyestillwater.com


“Mining built South Africa, but the country’s mining industry is dying. Pale yellow mounds of gold mine waste dot Johannesburg—called eGoli in Zulu, meaning Place of Gold—attesting to the promise of fortune, which built and now threatens the country. The country’s former breadwinner is manifested in 6,000 derelict and ownerless gold, coal, diamond and other mines scattered across South Africa.”

See http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/green-light-south-african-coal-mine-strategic-water-zone

“Mining production in South Africa shrank 1.5 percent from a year earlier in May 2019, the seventh consecutive month of decline and compared to market forecasts of a 2.5 percent slump. The largest negative contributors were: gold (-24.4 percent), diamonds (-30.7 percent), iron ore (-5.2 percent), and other metallic minerals (-9.8 percent). On the other hand, output growth was recorded for coal (8 percent), PGMs (6.8 percent), and manganese ore (29.3 percent). On a seasonally adjusted monthly basis, mining output increased by 3 percent, reversing a 1.8 percent fall in April. Mining Production in South Africa averaged -0.10 percent from 1981 until 2019, reaching an all time high of 23.20 percent in October of 2013 and a record low of -17.40 percent in March of 2016.”

Image  A miner emerging from a South African mine.

 Image of illegal gold being sought. 

“Small-scale gold mining operations sometimes use mercury to separate the gold from other materials. First, mercury is mixed with the materials containing gold. A mercury-gold amalgam then is formed because gold will dissolve in the mercury while other impurities will not. The mixture of gold and mercury is then heated to a temperature that will vaporize the mercury, leaving behind the gold. This process does not result in gold that is 100 percent pure, but it does eliminate the bulk of the impurities.

The problem with this method is the release of the mercury vapor into the environment. Even if equipment is used to catch the vapor, some still can get into the atmosphere. Mercury also can get into the soil and water if it still is contaminating other waste materials from the mining process that may be discarded.”

From https://blogs.nelson.wisc.edu/es112-301-southafrica/wp-content/uploads/sites/99/2014/04/70372440_70372439.jpg
Image of gold mine


 Gold Fields said it will carry out the new project through the proposed unbundling of its subsidiary unit. (Image source: Natalia V/Flickr)

All mining trashes the landscape. 

Image of South African gold miner

“Mercury first was used to extract gold as many as 3,000 years ago. The process was prominent in the U.S. up until the 1960s, and the environmental impact on northern California is still felt today, according to sciencing.com.

Health Effects

Mercury vapor negatively impacts the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, and the lungs and kidneys, and it can be fatal, according to the World Health Organization. These health effects can be felt from inhaling, ingesting, or even just physical contact with mercury. Common symptoms include tremors, trouble sleeping, memory loss, headaches, and loss of motor skills.

A common means of becoming infected is through eating contaminated fish.”

There has been a long history of tailing dam disasters, in South Africa and many places where similar mining activities take place around the world.

merriespruit dam

An aerial view of the dam after it had collapsed. Image from tailings.info

This is the story of the Merriespruit Tailings Dam disaster (from floodlist.com)

Merriespruit is a suburb of Virginia in South Africa, and on the 22nd of February 1994 it suffered a terrible flood because of failure to the Merriespuit tailings dam. There had been heavy rainfall that day, and the dam could not hold the extra water. The damage was immense, destroying eighty homes and killing seventeen people.

The dam itself was for the deposit of gold tailings. After gold was removed from local rock, the materials left over were transported to the dam in order to settle during the day. During the night, slurry was processed. In the middle of the dam, there was a drain to get rid of excess water.

The dam was built in the town in 1978, and only just over three hundred metres away from one of the houses in Merriespruit, which contained around two hundred and fifty houses in total. The year before the disaster, a leak was reported, so all deposition was cancelled in to that particular compartment. Extra water was filtered into another compartment. Before the dam failed, the conditions were considered unsafe and unfit. The freeboard (which contained the extra water) did not have the ability to hold half a metre of extra water. But still, nothing was done.

On the day of the disaster, there were reports of a flurry of water coming from the dam into the town. However, this was not the first time a stream had escaped. Another eye witness saw a leak coming from over the top wall of the dam. The mining contractors arrived to assess the dam that evening. They assessed the damage, and were about to warn the local town. However, they had no time. A loud crash was heard coming from the dam, and a wave broke free, heading towards the locals.

The flood that was released was a mixture of water, sediment and slime from the gold tailing process. The volume of water that flowed out was six hundred thousand metres squared. By the time it reached the first house in Merriespruit, the wall of silt and water was two and a half metres high. The liquids travelled four kilometres before losing its momentum, but the damage had been done.

In the aftermath of the floods, investigations were undertaken to assess what exactly had happened. The Minister of Justice and the State looked at all the evidence, which included weather reports, lab reports from the owners of the dam, satellite reports, and statements from eye witnesses. In the end, the fault was down to the contractor and the mine who were responsible for the upkeep. Eight people were fined for negligence. As it transpired, there had been a drop in the number of employees at the dam in recent years. Certain members of staff had been promoted into jobs that they had not been trained for.

There was naturally an outrage from the community about the disaster. In response, the law subsequently changed so that no tailings dams can now be built within a kilometre of housing.

Sources: Wikipedia, Tailings
South Africa

Big Hole image (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Hole#/media/File%3AOpen_pit_mine.jpg)) A diamond mine. The Big Hole, Open Mine, Kimberley Mine or Tim Kuilmine (Afrikaans: Groot Gat) is an open-pit and underground mine in Kimberley, South Africa, and claimed to be the deepest hole excavated by hand, although this claim is disputed.
See https://beyond4cs.com/faq/diamond-origins/how-they-are-mined/

“Did you know that alluvial mining can cause serious deterioration and damage to our natural environment? You might have heard of the Big Hole (the Kimberley open mine) or the Jagersfontein Mine where some of the most famous diamonds in history had been unearthed.

Unknown to many people, these mines are the biggest man-made holes and had also left permanent scars on our planet’s surface which could be seen from space.” Yet for twenty years some want it registered as a World Heritage site!

We monetise our resources at our peril. We must try and prevent the Shock Doctrine (see Naomi Klein) economic philosophy from destroying what little is left. Perhaps a growing pressure to change international law and make ecocide a crime. Take a look at https://www.stopecocide.earth.

Image of Ever Dear website page

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Arsenic contamination of groundwater, focussing mostly on Argentina and Chile

During the 130 million years that the South American continent was moving away from Africa, pushed by the continual movement of tectonic plate action, a number of extreme events occurred to the Earth’s crust. The landmass was ever changing, and today, is divided into countries; the indigenous early human population is now dominated by recent history of European human conquest. But human existence is but a blinking of an eye compared to the millions of years this landmass and life thereon, was evolving.

One striking feature is the huge Atacama Desert of western South America

Image of Atacama Desert and map of its location

This desert formed around 10 million years ago, whilst the landmass of South America was isolated. (It was 4 million years ago that South America became joined, over a millennia, to North America).

In May (2019) a team of scientists, from France’s Aix-Marseille Université, made the extraordinary discovery – comprising of 388 separate meteorites – in South America’s Atacama Desert. Some of these ancient meteorite collection date back two million years – the oldest-ever found on Earth.

Contrast these wonders of our planet to the early human experience of being the first explorers to find the Atacama Desert.

The Earth changes and evolves and is host to our presence, but we can only interact with it with survival in mind. Once satiated, feeling safe, we might use our brains to try and contemplate the making of this diverse and incredible universe.  

There is recent evidence (see https://www.universetoday.com/141804/almost-13000-years-ago-a-comet-impact-set-everything-on-fire/) that a comet set the Earth on fire, and one of the impact craters has been found at the southern tip of Chile. This was around 12,800 years ago, (Pleistocene) and is evidence the event created a severe climate shift. In this location the impact would have caused widespread destruction, characterized by biomass burning, megafaunal extinctions and global cooling.

The landscape of the lush vegetation was transformed by what is termed the Younger Dryas, causing advances of glaciers and drier conditions, over much of the temperate northern hemisphere. This event is believed to have caused widespread destruction and the demise of the Clovis culture in North America.

Image of climate change graph

Whilst this catastrophic interruption to life evolving in South America occurred, there were constant eruptions along the Volcanic Belt of the Andes, which continue today. 

Geological processes are a constant presence as the crust of the Earth continues to move and reshape itself. Yet humans and all life adapt and evolve as water, food and shelter are sought.

Number one priority! All living things must have free, clean, pure and fresh drinking water in order to survive. Those without it, and there are millions, suffer until those who have succeed in helping those who have not. (Example https://cleanwaterfortheworld.org)

Caleta Vitor, Chile


As tribes of hunter gatherers, of probably between twelve to twenty in number, slowly arrived on the Pacific Coast of South America, they ate molluscs and fish from the sea, but sought fresh water by moving inland, or collecting rainwater, perhaps in empty large shells. It has been postulated that the fish diet probably was crucial to brain development and helped them solve problems of survival more effectively.

But those who arrived at what is now known as Caleta Vitor, on the Pacific coast of northern Chile, drank from what appeared to be clean, pure water. They were not to know it carried a dangerous toxin which continues to form in groundwater today. Arsenic.

There is evidence that people of numerous pre-Columbian civilizations in northern Chile suffered from chronic arsenic poisoning between 500 and 1450 AD, through consumption of contaminated water. 

Now a new study has found evidence of arsenic poisoning across all major cultural periods in the region, spanning several millennia. The researchers, James Swift of the Australian National University and colleagues from several other institutions in Australia and Chile, performed plasma mass spectrometry trace element analysis of human bone and tooth samples. The samples came from 21 burials covering the period from 3867 to 474 BP (before present) excavated at the site of Caleta Vitor on the Pacific coast of northern Chile.(see http://www.kaogu.cn/en/International_exchange/Academic_activities___/2015/0407/49796.html)

These would be hunter gatherers, not communities forming civilisations. They buried their dead, no doubt valuing the person who had suffered in their midst for some time before their death. This habit has led to these remains being uncovered by the researchers. Coastal and inland Chilean Diaguitas (see later about the Diaguitas tribes) traded in this area as evidenced by the archaeological findings of mollusc shells in the upper course of Andean valleys. These were most likely the ancient people who were the wandering, indigenous tribes, seeking sustenance along the Pacific coast in what we now think of as Chile. They would find the cold Atacama Desert, a barren wilderness, unsuitable for a human centre for settlement. Even the Incas penetrated into the northern portion of what is now Chile but were never able to develop the area for the same reasons of barrenness.

These early explorers sought fresh drinking water inland, as a priority. In the case of those who died of arsenic poising, what they found looked safe to drink and no one died within a short time of drinking it. They had no idea it was poisonous, contaminated with arsenic. Those people grew ill very slowly, so they could not work out what was killing them in such a painful and cruel way. Animals with shorter lifespans would not be affected, therefore no carcasses of animals lay by water contaminated with arsenic.

The Diaguitas and Catamarca 

Images of Catamar

Vista_aérea_de_San_Fernando_del_Valle_de_Catamarca,_Argentina.jpgjlazarte Catedral_Basílica_Nuestra_Señora_del_Valle,_Catamarca.jpg: Agus ferrocarril Archivo_y_MH_Catamarca.jpg: Claudio Elias El_Jumeal.jpg: Stefan sauzuk Templo_de_San_Francisco,_Catamarca.jpg: 

There were no borders when humans first roamed South America, so early humans explored this landmass, forming numerous and often warring tribes, but coming together only to face the threat of early civilisations such as the Incas or the Spanish Conquistadors.

Before the arrival of the Spanish conquest, most of today’s Catamarca was inhabited by the Diaguitas indigenous people, including the fierce Calchaquí tribe.

The indigenous tribal peoples have lived in the lush river canyons of this region for over 12,000 years. These were the Pulares who lived in the Chicoana region, the Jamalaos in Sumalao, the Luracataos and Colomes in the Tacuil region, the Hualfin in Angastaco and Tucumanahao. 

To the south of San Carlos were the Quire-Quire, the Animana, the Chuschagasta, the Cafayate, the Tolombon and the Colalao. In the Yocavil Valley lived the Amaicha, Quilmes, Yocaviles and the Caspinchango. To the south were the settlements of the Abaucanes in Andalgala and Hualfin. Other tribes are the Tinogasta, Palcipas, Pom’an, Capayan and Fiambala all of which contributed to the enrichment of the ethnic spectrum in this region. 

The ‘Diaguita’, combined by the Spanish invaders under this umbrella name, included many tribes that had united years earlier to defend themselves against the intrusion of the Incas from the North. Despite hundreds of years of invasion and colonization by first the Inca and then the Spanish, the descendants of these original people still live in their ancestral homeland……….Of special importance to the Calchaquí was their hairstyle. They wore it long, and it was considered despicable to cut a person’s hair. According to the writings of Quiroga in 1903, one of the most insulting punishments inflicted by the Spaniards was to shave off the Indians´ hair. Pincers made of copper lead us to believe that the Diaguita plucked their hair with an eye to fashion. They decorated their straight, black hair with headbands, feathers, plaits, and hair needles made from cactus wood, horn, and silver. In early times even an occasional deformed skull was incorporated into a hairstyle.

Valuable jewelry was made in various zoomorphic shapes from precious metals. Silver and gold plates were fashioned into pectorals, bracelets, discs for the forehead and sewn into clothing. Pins to close tupus had filigree decorations. Necklaces and earrings were made of both precious and semi precious stones.”

(See http://www.condorvalley.org/explore-condor-valley/diaguita-history/)

Arsenic found in drinking water worldwide

Today, arsenic found in drinking water is a worldwide problem, and not least in the Americas.
The lands once inhabited by indigenous tribes are now populated by people who have formed rural farming communities; people who have built cities and industrialised the landscape; people who are very poor and struggle with day to day poverty; and a smaller percentage who live a comfortable life. Every single person requires water free from toxins, but this is not straightforward for those who have no choice but to live in contaminated regions.

There is now a growing body of knowledge of how arsenic gets into groundwater and solutions are being tested to provide populations with arsenic free drinking water. Each location requires varying solutions, with no formulaic answer which might solve the worldwide cases”

The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks arsenic as one of 10 most concerning chemicals from a public health standpoint. Prolonged exposure to arsenic, particularly in drinking water and food crops that require irrigation, increases the risk of cardiovascular, dermatological, and neurological diseases, as well as various forms of cancer. At least 4 million residents of Argentina, Chile, Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Peru and Bolivia are exposed to dangerous concentrations of it. Bangladesh is the worst affected country in the world by arsenic contamination. More than 60% of the groundwater available in Bangladesh is highly contaminated with arsenic. About 50-77 million of the total population of about 164 million is under extreme threat. 

Arsenic contamination of groundwater is a form of groundwater pollution which is often due to naturally occurring high concentrations of arsenic in deeper levels of groundwater. In Bangladesh, it is a high-profile problem due to the use of deep tubewells for water supply in the Ganges Delta, causing serious arsenic poisoning to large numbers of people. Additionally, mining in India can produce waste which gets washed into Bangladesh in the monsoon season, and that waste contains a range of toxins.

A 2007 study found that over 137 million people in more than 70 countries are probably affected by arsenic poisoning of drinking water. The problem became a serious health concern after mass poisoning of water in Bangladesh. Arsenic contamination of ground water is found in many countries throughout the world, including the US.
Image of Bangladeshi, poisoned by local water arsenic contamination. These communities cannot find locally safe drinking water.

Approximately 20 major incidents of groundwater floarsenic contamination have been reported. Of these, four major incidents occurred in Asia, in Thailand, Taiwan, and Mainland China. Locations of potentially hazardous wells have been mapped in China.

Individuals with chronic exposure to arsenic are at higher risk of death at younger age because arsenic is such a toxic agent that affects all systems of human body,” says Dr Muhammad Yunus, emeritus scientist and senior author of a study published in Environment International based on a 13-year long observation on indications of higher mortality risk rate of young adults.

Young adults who passed away due to cancers, cerebro-vascular, cardio-vascular and respiratory diseases – were found to have a higher exposure to arsenic-laced water. See https://smartwatermagazine.com/news/icddrb/arsenic-laced-water-may-cause-more-young-deaths

Regardless of localized inputs of arsenic from human activities, much of the contamination of groundwater by arsenic was shown to arise from geogenic sources which affected groundwater in many countries. Arsenic is a natural component of the earth’s crust and is widely distributed throughout the environment. On land, rocks which are exposed to certain geological and geothermal activities can contribute to major sources of arsenic deposits if they are rich in minerals containing arsenic like Realgar (As4S4), Arsenopyrite (FeAsS), Anargite (Cu3AsS4) and Orpiment. The major cause of contamination of arsenic in groundwater is the mobilization of natural arsenic on sediments. If the minerals are subjected to the right chemical conditions under the ground, the arsenic content in them can dissolve in the surrounding groundwater accumulation. The main anthropogenic sources for contamination of groundwater with arsenic are mining, burning of fossil fuels, use of arsenical fungicides, herbicides and insecticides in agriculture and wood preservatives. The degree of groundwater arsenic contamination by anthropogenic sources is much less compared to the natural sources; however, their contribution cannot be neglected. In the United States, the arsenic contents have been reported to be sourcing from geogenic sources like up-flow of geothermal water, dissolution of or desorption from iron oxide, and dissolution of sulphide minerals; and also, from anthropogenic sources such as copper smelting. 

The source of arsenic in India is geogenic as well as anthropogenic. Arsenic is present in the alluvial sediments of the Delta; and the chemical industries along with mining contribute to the anthropogenic causes of arsenic in groundwater. The presence of arsenic in groundwater exceeding the standard limits set by the government and its toxicology pose serious health concerns. The severity of the problem is alarmingly high. Its long-term exposures are fatal. Arsenic poisoning immediately causes vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea which might be followed by muscle cramping, numbness and at times death. 

The long-term exposures can be indicated by pigmentations on skin, hyperkeratosis and skin lesions which might prove to be early signs of skin cancer. Along with skin cancer, there may be developmental effects, diabetes, pulmonary and cardiovascular disease.” 


Image of Worldwide Map locations of arsenic poisoned water, from above report

Argentina, South America

Natural geological factors are to blame for most arsenic contamination in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Nicaragua, but human activities also lead to huge arsenic contamination problems. Mining and smelting are responsible for much of the problem in Chile, Bolivia, and Peru. In Brazil, contributing to the problem are electrolytic processes in metal production. A smaller but significant source is arsenic pesticide, used mainly in Mexico. Generally, though, most arsenic in Latin American surface water and groundwater comes from minerals produced by Andes Mountains Tertiary and Quaternary volcanism.

Despite being a type location for calc-alkalic and subduction volcanism, the Andean Volcanic Belt has a large range of volcano-tectonic settings;  including rift systems and extensional zones, transpressional faults, subduction of mid-ocean ridges and seamount chains apart from a large range on crustal thicknesses and magma ascent paths, and different amounts of crustal assimilations. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andean_Volcanic_Belt)

Image of Andean Volcanic Belt

Volcanic activity can release large amounts of arsenic to the environment.

Every year, natural sources contribute about 1/3 of the total annual release of arsenic to the atmosphere. Most of this comes from volcanoes.

Groundwater in contact with rocks that are high in arsenic MAY contain high concentrations of arsenic – this is a natural source of arsenic. Many of the world’s most troublesome problem spots are due to naturally high in arsenic in groundwater.

Argentina, particularly the northern and central areas, such as the province of La Pampa, have high concentrations of arsenic. In large parts of rural Argentina people depend on groundwater whose As content exceeds the Argentine drinking water standards (0.05 mg l−1). 

In La Pampa, arsenic levels vary widely by locality. Studies have observed levels of <4 µg/L to 5,300 µg/L in the region. Some urban areas use reverse osmosis treatment, but it’s impractical in rural areas and cattle lands. A 2012 study of arsenic contamination effects in the Rioja plain, Pampa hills, and Chaco-Pampa plain found an increased risk of colon cancer in women, and lung and bladder cancers in both sexes.

Anthropocene Impact through mining processes

Examples of intensive mining in Latin America show:

In Bolivia, bordering with Argentina and Chile
It’s destroying lives

In Bolivia, the average miner in the tin mines of Potosí will live only 35 to 40 years – a life more than 25 years shorter than the average Bolivian person. At least 300,000 children as young as 5 work in Columbian mines.

The children suffer

Almost all children in the Peruvian town of La Oroya have dangerously high levels of lead, arsenic and other toxins in their blood. More than 40% of the children under 5 have mental deficiencies. The cause is the town’s heavy pollution from lead, zinc and copper mining. The owners were prosecuted and fined. This complex is to be under new ownership https://www.livinginperu.com/new-owner-of-oroya-mining-complex-to-be-decided-by-late-may-105600/

Images Oroya complex 

The mining of raw materials for electronic products—including silicon, aluminum, copper, lead, and gold—contributes to increased respiratory problems for workers, such as silicosis, tuberculosis, bronchitis, and lung cancer. Gold mines are the leading source of mercury air pollution in the U.S.

Anxiety about the destruction caused by mining in mountainous landscapes is illustrated in this blog:
Images from above blog

Agus ferrocarril derivative work: Bleff • CC BY-SA 3.0

Located in an arid and semi-arid climate zone, the scarce water resources determine the human settlement pattern. Agricultural activities are concentrated in the pockets and valleys between the mountains. In the east the population is concentrated around a number of water courses, water being distributed by canals and irrigation ditches.

The constant threat from mining activities looms over these oases in the desert.

Seven years ago this was the huge list of mining operations in Argentina http://argentinamining.com/en/empresas-mineras-en-argentina/


In Chile, high levels of volcanic arsenic are affecting rural water supplies and agriculture through contaminated soils and irrigation water. As Ioanna Kakoulli, an archaeological scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, explained that in Chile, sediments are also rich in arsenic because of copper-mining activities in the highlands. It is too easy to explain arsenic levels through natural causes.

Compounding the misery caused by already high levels of natural toxic levels of arsenic, copper mining is an additional source of arsenic contamination.(http://www.antofagasta.co.uk)

Antofagasta has a reputation of being anti-union, anti-worker and anti-environment and has exhibited such behaviors wherever they have decided to exploit low-grade copper sulfide ore anywhere in the world. (See https://www.naturalblaze.com/2017/07/antofagasta-twin-metals-polymet-dangers-copper-mining.html

……..The International Copper Study Group’s (ICSG), most recent projections see world mine production increasing 4.2% to 19.5Mt in 2016 with the market moving into a deficit of around 130,000t as demand growth outpaces production growth, after a surplus of 41,000t in 2015……….Latin America still leads the world in copper mine production. Latin America’s share of global mined copper output as a region grew from 19% in 1960 to over 40% in 2014, and this share will continue to expand as the project portfolio evolves. (http://hgomezgroup.com/2016/03/10/copper-mining-in-latin-america-project-overview/

There used to be villages in the Atacama Desert, but now they are preserved as museum pieces for tourists who have come to see the biggest copper mining open pit in the world. (https://www.christravelblog.com/chile-mining-in-the-atacama-desert-at-chuquicamata-mine-and-humberstone/

Chuquicamata (/tʃuːkiːkəˈmɑːtə/ choo-kee-kə-MAH-tə), or “Chuqui” as it is more familiarly known, is by excavated volume the largest open pit copper mine in the world, located in the north of Chile, just outside Calama at 2,850 m (9,350 ft) above sea level, 215 km (134 mi) northeast of Antofagasta and 1,240 km (770 mi) north of the capital, Santiago.

Hector Pumarino Soto suggests that “Calama” stems from the Kunza word “Ckara-ama,” which means “town in the middle of the water”. Until the middle of the 20th century, the urban site of Calama and the surrounding oasis were flanked by the River Loa on two sides, and the fertile plain and swamps on the other sides, giving the location the appearance of an island in the middle of the desert surrounded completely by water. Its banks have been inhabited from early times. Evidence of this is the notable number of geoglyphs, petroglyphs and pictographs that are found along its course and in its upper basin.

Northern Chile’s rivers are the main causes of arsenic contamination (Mukherjee et al 2006). The region is drained by the Rio Loa river which has an arsenic concentration of 1400 μg L−1 and its tributaries have about 1000 μg L−1 (Mukherjee et al 2009). http://reports.ias.ac.in/report/13126/arsenic-in-groundwater-sources-and-its-impacts-on-the-human-body-a-review

Chuqui -as workers call Codelco’s flagship mine- together with the nearby Radomiro Tomic mine produced 653,000 tonnes of the company’s total 1.8 million tonnes of output last year.(see https://www.codelco.com)

At present, the state-owned miner is seeking to transform the 100-year-old open-pit deposit at Chuquicamata into an underground mine by 2020, when mining at the open-pit ends.

In 2013 David Lowell, a legendary octogenarian explorer credited with finding the Escondida copper deposit, among others, hoped he could find the answer to one of the world’s greatest exploration mysteries: finding lost – or believed to be lost – Chuquicamata copper ore.

The Chuqui mystery is this: a fault, called the West Fault, cuts through the Chuqui ore body and appears to have moved a chunk – how much is not clear – of Chuqui ore elsewhere, where or exactly how far is uncertain. But most guesses, those made in a so far fruitless search for lost Chuqui ore, have put it somewhere about 15 to 20 kilometres to the south on a property that is known as the Ricardo project.

It’s a roughly 16,000 hectare property on the edge of the Chilean town of Calama. The pursuit for this wealth creating and arsenic inflicting ore never seems to end. Will Calama become another ghost town?

Image of Geothermal Vents, Calama

In geothermal reservoirs that are deep seated, leaching helps the release of arsenic which are brought to sub-surface level by the uprising activity of the geothermal fluids. At high temperatures, arsenic occurs in Arsenopyrite (FeAsS) or simply arsenic bearing pyrite. ​Bundschuh​ These minerals dissolved in geothermal fluids, after reaching the subsurface zone, get adsorbed to the sediments when in excess. Later on these sediments work as source for arsenic when the concentration of iron decreases in the surrounding waters. (Cornett et al 1992, Bright et al. 1994) When these sediments weather, they release bivalent Fe in an oxidising environment, which sorbs the co-weathered arsenic. The iron oxyhydroxide rocks adsorb arsenic released from these sediments. Redox processes in these rocks trigger the reductive dissolution of iron oxides into the surrounding aqueous phases along with a substantial amount of arsenic through different biogeochemical processes ​(​Singh 2006​). 

Microbes also promote arsenic concentration in fluids by oxidation or reduction to produce As (V) and As(III) respectively. Low pH promotes the concentration of the aqueous species H2AsO4- under oxidising conditions and high pH will promote HAsO42- under the same conditions. Under reducing conditions, arsenite dominates in the form H3AsO30 (Kinniburgh et al 2003).”

An architect group say

Calama PLUS is a public-private initiative aimed to compensate the Calama inhabitants, in response to their massive and constant complaints about the negative environmental impact of mining activity on the city. It is intended to improve, on one hand, its urban quality, and on the other, to preserve and expand its condition of oasis. With a participatory design process, the master plan includes 23 projects to improve the city ranging from urban parks, public spaces and schools to proposals on how to use more efficiently scarce water resources.

Our planet cannot take much more plundering. We must move back from expansion and become agnostic to growth of corporate outputs, worldwide. All corporate mining activity must utilise cutting edge technology that will not negatively impact the water, fishes, trees and land -as all of them are interrelated. Failing that, they should be prosecuted for the crime of ecocide which may soon become an internationally declared law.

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Wildlife of Africa and the links to wildlife of South America

When South America split from Africa (see previous blog) it became, for much of the past 130 million years, an island continent, and on it organisms evolved in “splendid isolation.” Mammals, especially, evolved into forms not seen anywhere else.

The land mass of Africa is the only place still teeming with a diverse mixture of megafauna today, being the likely birthing place of all life forms, the centrepiece of Gondwana.

Whilst megafauna may have become extinct in South America, it remains one of the most biodiverse continents on earth. It is home to many interesting and unique species of animals including the llama, anaconda, piranha, jaguar, vicuña, and tapir. The Amazon rainforests possess high biodiversity, containing a major proportion of the Earth’s species. It is vital these are now protected from corporate activities which have plundered this continent for too long, committing ecocide crimes to satisfy our western greed. For example, the tapir is hunted and its habitat is being destroyed – see https://www.bioexpedition.com/tapir/

When Gondwana broke into other land masses which moved away from the continent of Africa, they moved into areas within the oceans which were often beset by extreme climate change. For example, “during the the last Ice Age, Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea formed a single landmass, called Sahul. It was a strange and often hostile place populated by a bizarre cast of giant animals” – see ‘Climate change helped kill off super-sized Ice Age animals in Australia’, David Salisbury Jan. 26, 2017) 

The ancestors of the American Smilodon and scimitar cat lived in Africa as the now extinct wolf sized, blade-toothed dogs and sabre-toothed cats such as Megantereon and Homotherium.

Image of Megantereon
Megantereon was a genus of prehistoric machairodontine saber-toothed cat that lived in North America, Eurasia, and Africa. It may have been the ancestor of Smilodon.

At the end of the Pliocene the Meganteron evolved into the larger Smilodon in North America, while it survived in the Old World until the middle Pleistocene. The youngest remains of Megantereon from east Africa are about 1.5 million years old. In southern Africa, the genus is recorded from Elandsfontein, a site dated to around 700,000-400,000 years old. Remains from Untermaßfeld show that Megantereon lived until 900,000 years ago in Europe. In Asia,it may have survived until 500,000 years ago, as it is recorded together with Homo erectus at the famous site of Zhoukoudian in China. The only full skeleton was found in Senéze, France.

Image of Smilodon

Indeed the Smilodon roamed the extent of South America, a fearsome creature.  

Homotherium (also known as the scimitar-toothed cat or scimitar cat) is an extinct genus of machairodontine saber-toothed cats, often termed scimitar-toothed cats, that inhabited North America, South America, Eurasia, and Africa during the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs (4 mya – 12,000 years ago), existing for approximately 4 million years.

Image of Homotherium 

H. serum size comparison Dantheman9758 at English Wikipedia (Original text: Dantheman9758 (talk)) • CC BY 3.0

In Latin America, during the Early Pliocene through the end of the Pleistocene, there existed a giant ground sloth, a Megathereum Americanum. Megatherium was first discovered in 1788 on the bank of the Luján River in Argentina, the holotype specimen was then shipped to Spain the following year wherein it caught the attention of the esteemed paleontologist Georges Cuvier, Cuvier was the first to determine that Megatherium was a sloth.

Due to growing aridity it could no longer survive in limited habitat. As humans evolved in the same area, they would find this great beast vulnerable and easier to hunt and kill. So it became extinct.

The sloths which now exist are also in peril and some attempts are being made to save them.

Only a few other land mammals equaled or exceeded Megatherium in size, such as large proboscideans (e.g., elephants) and the giant rhinoceros Paraceratherium. 

The elephants of Africa are well known to us, though difficult to protect from greedy ivory hunters in these days of organised wildlife crime. But elephants once roamed the Americas.

American mastodon  image

Gomphoetheres  were widespread in North America during the Miocene and Pliocene epochs, 12–1.6 million years ago. Some lived in parts of Eurasia, Beringia, and in South America following the Great American Interchange.

Certainly, the Gomphotheres, a diverse group of elephant-like animals (proboscideans) were not only widespread in North America during the Miocene and Pliocene epochs, with some living in Eurasia and South America, they were slowly replaced by modern elephants, but the last South American species did not finally become extinct until possibly as recently as 400 A.D. In the toxonomy of the Gomphotherium, the complete “parentage” was finally decided in 1998 from Domain to Family. According to J. L. Prado, M. T. Alberdi, b. Azanza, B. Sanchex, and D. Frassinetti in their 2005 work on elephants in South America, the Gomphothere remains are common at South American Paleo-indian sites. One example is the early human settlement at Monte Verde, in Chile. 

Consequently, elephants were widely distributed all over South America, with at least one variety existing to about the time of the annihilation of the Nephites, 400 A.D.”

From https://nephicode.blogspot.com/2012/01/elephants-in-south-america.html

Diagram from the above blog:

From Wikipedia:

“Gomphothere remains are common at South American Paleo-indian sites. Examples include the early human settlement at Monte Verde, Chile, dating to approximately 14,000 years ago, and the Altiplano Cundiboyacense (Tibitó, 11,740 BP) and the Valle del Magdalena of Colombia. In 2011, remains dating between 10,600 and 11,600 years ago were also found in the El Fin del Mundo(End of the World) site in Sonora, Mexico’s Clovis location – the first time such an association was found in a northern part of the continent where gomphotheres had been thought to have gone extinct 30,000 years ago. In July 2014, it was announced that the “position and proximity of Clovis weapon fragments relative to the gomphothere bones at the site suggest that humans did in fact kill the two animals there. Of the seven Clovis points found at the site, four were in place among the bones, including one with bone and teeth fragments above and below. The other three points had clearly eroded away from the bone bed and were found scattered nearby.”

Today the magnificent elephant of Africa die under attack from war weapons mounted on helicopters in a mass slaughter.

Read :https://www.reuters.com/article/us-africa-elephants/organized-crime-behind-alarming-africa-elephant-slaughter-report-idUSBRE9250UO20130306

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Southern Gondwana and the formation of South America and South Africa

As Gondwana was the parent landmass of South America, I am going to spend a while studying the geology in this blog, then the life forms, in further blogs, which existed until the present day in South Africa and on the separated landmass of South America.

This is a brief description of the formation and ongoing earth contortions which continue to create and diminish the land on which life exists. 

Much of what I’ve picked out is from Wikipedia, but the work of geologists is fascinating and I’m only dipping into what is available to illustrate the landmass similarities between South America and South Africa when what we now call South America split from the supercontinent of Gondwana (named by Austrian scientist Eduard Suess, after the Gondwana region of central India which is taken from the Sanskrit for “forest of the Gonds”).

The forming of Patagonia, Chile, Argentina

The rocks comprising Patagonia occurred along the southwestern margin of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana. During a period of continental rifting in the Cambrian period, a portion of Patagonia was separated from Gondwana, and the resulting passive margin that formed was a site of extensive sedimentation throughout the early-middle Paleozoic era. This geologic period of time that lasted from 542 to 488 million years ago was the first period of the Paleozoic era, and is distinguished from the preceding Precambrian by a spectacular increase in the number of living organisms.

Subduction-related igneous rocks from beneath the North Patagonian Massif have been dated at 320–330 million years old, indicating that the subduction process initiated in the early Carboniferous. This was relatively short lived (lasting about 20 million years), and initial contact of the two landmasses occurred in the mid-Carboniferous, with broader collision during the early Permian. In the Devonian an island arc named Chaitenia accreted to Patagonia in what is now south-central Chile.

Dinosaurs on Gondwana

Dinosaurs first appeared during the Triassic period, between 243 and 233.23 million years ago, although the exact origin and timing of the evolution of dinosaurs is the subject of active research. They would have developed on many Landmasses deriving from Gondwana.

South Africa formation

It took until about 180 million years ago, for a mantle plume under southern Gondwana caused bulging of the continental crust in the area that would later become southern Africa. Within 10 – 20 million years rift valleys formed on either side of the central bulge, which became flooded to become the proto-Atlantic and proto-Indian Oceans. The stepped steep walls of these rift valleys formed escarpments that surrounded the newly formed Southern African subcontinent.

The Great Escarpment is a major topographical feature in Africa that consists of steep slopes from the high central Southern African plateau downward in the direction of the oceans that surround Southern Africa on three sides. While it lies predominantly within the borders of South Africa, in the east it extends northwards to form the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe, continuing on beyond the Zambezi River valley to form the Muchinga Escarpment in eastern Zambia. In the west, it continues northwards into Namibia and Angola.

Different names are applied to different stretches of the Great Escarpment, the most well-known section being the Drakensberg. The Schwarzrand and edge of the Khomas Highland in Namibia, as well as the Serra da Chela in Angola, are also well-known names.

The San and the Khoikhoi people were the original inhabitants of South Africa, arising out of the Cradle of Humankind.

The Cradle of Humankind is a paleoanthropological site about 50 km (31 mi) northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa, in the Gauteng province. Declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999, the site currently occupies 47,000 hectares (180 sq mi) and contains a complex of limestone caves. The registered name of the site in the list of World Heritage sites is Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa.

Nearby the site, but not in the site, the Rising Star Cave system contains the Dinaledi Chamber (chamber of stars), in which were discovered fifteen fossil skeletons of an extinct species of hominin, provisionally named Homo naledi.

The San people are also known as Bushmen, while the Khoikhoi are often referred to as Hottentots. Even though their cultures differ significantly, together they are called the Khoisan people because of their biological similarities. They are almost extinct today.

In 1486 Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias and his crew were the first Europeans to sail around the southern point of the continent of Africa. It was often stormy, but when calm sailors could see the impressive Table Mountain. The area he sailed around he called The Cape of Good Hope (“Cabo de Boa Esperanca”).

Image of Table Mountain

Quote from https://www.riverlodge.co.za/pages/riverlodge-backpackers-geology-of-table-mountain-cape-town-south-africa

“……shifts in the earth’s plates created many fold mountains – including the Hottentot-Holland range in the Cape Winelands. But the hard granite base of Table Mountain resisted folding and deflected the forces downwards. This produced uplift in a geological process known as istotacy, or ’emerging relief’ and Table Mountain began to rise above sea level. This process probably started about 280 million years ago, and continues to the present day, making Table Mountain one of the oldest mountains in the world (it is six times older than the Himalayas).

As Table Mountain rises, so it is constantly eroded by the onslaught of high winds, rain and fire. The sandstone superstructure is protected from the rough seas by it’s granite base (clearly visible along the coastline at Camps Bay and beyond Simon’s Town). But its coarse sandstone heights have been worn by the other elements into strange and fantastic shapes, giving the mountain its extraordinary gnarled and craggy appearance. The sheer front face, however, was caused by the action of waves – it is a giant cliff face. ”

South America and tectonic plate movement

The Antarctic Plate started to subduct beneath South America 14 million years ago in the Miocene epoch. At first it subducted only in the southernmost tip of Patagonia, meaning that the Chile Triple Junction lay near the Strait of Magellan. As the southern part of the Nazca Plate and the Chile Rise became consumed by subduction the more northerly regions of the Antarctic Plate began to subduct beneath Patagonia so that the Chile Triple Junction lies at present offshore Taitao Peninsula at 46°15′ S.

Chile Triple Junction

Image from: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/12chile/images/recent1-800.jpg

Spanish explorers and Jesuits that sailed south from Chiloé Archipelago in the 17th and 18th centuries regularly avoided rounding Taitao Peninsula entering instead the Gulf of Penas after a brief land crossing at the isthmus of Ofqui. While atempting to pass Gulf of Penas in 1741 a storm caught HMS Wager making it wreck in Wager Island, Guayaneco Archipelago. One of the survivors, John Byron, ( Vice-Admiral John Byron (8 November 1723 – 10 April 1786) was a British Royal Navy officer and politician. He was known as Foulweather Jack because of his frequent encounters with bad weather at sea).  He and other survivors were led into the Spanish settlements of Chiloé Archipelago by a native Chono trough Presidente Ríos Lake. As result of its difficult access and isolation the peninsula is largely unexplored.

Tierra del Fuego

Tierra del Fuego (/tiˈɛərə dɛl ˈfweɪɡoʊ/, Spanish: [ˈtjera ðel ˈfweɣo]; Spanish for “Land of Fire”) is an archipelago off the southernmost tip of the South American mainland, across the Strait of Magellan. The archipelago consists of the main island, Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, with an area of 48,100 km2 (18,572 sq mi), and a group of many islands, including Cape Horn and Diego Ramírez Islands. Tierra del Fuego is divided between Chile and Argentina, with the latter controlling the eastern half of the main island and the former the western half plus the islands south of Beagle Channel. The southernmost extent of the archipelago is at about latitude 55 S.

The earliest known human settlement in Tierra del Fuego dates to around 8,000 BCE.

Europeans first explored the islands during Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition of 1520; Tierra del Fuego and similar namings stem from sightings of the many bonfires that the natives built. 

Settlement by those of European descent and the great displacement of the native populations did not begin until the second half of the 19th century, at the height of the Patagonian sheep farming boom and of the local gold rush. 

Today, petroleum extraction dominates economic activity in the north of Tierra del Fuego, while tourism, manufacturing, and Antarctic logistics are important in the south.

Cape Horn was discovered and first rounded in 1616 by the Dutchman Willem Schouten, who named Kaap Hoorn after the city of Hoorn in the Netherlands. For decades, Cape Horn was a major milestone on the clipper route, by which sailing ships carried trade around the world. The waters around Cape Horn are particularly hazardous, owing to strong winds, large waves, strong currents and icebergs; these dangers have made it notorious as a sailors’ graveyard.

Image of Cape Horn

It is our human interaction with Landmasses which has created the diversity of human life. It is as nothing compared to the diversity of all life on Earth since time began. We are only just beginning to understand something of this phenomenal world within the vast universe. We must continue to respect all life as we explore and scrape the surface of our understanding. It is wonderful to me that humans have created the vast wealth of knowledge made available to us via the Internet. Despite fake news abounding on daily events, there are still areas of knowledge we can pursue to fill us with exhilation and make us glad to be alive!

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The Jaguar of the Americas and implications for its origins: part two

Nature dominates and rules our lives. No matter how much material wealth we may have, we cannot buy Nature and all its myriad of miracles. We do try to emulate Nature and today we call this study Biomimetics.
Wikipedia re: Biomimetics:

“Living organisms have evolved well-adapted structures and materials over geological time through natural selection. Biomimetics has given rise to new technologies inspired by biological solutions at macro and nanoscales. Humans have looked at nature for answers to problems throughout our existence. Nature has solved engineering problems such as self-healing abilities, environmental exposure tolerance and resistance, hydrophobicity, self-assembly, and harnessing solar energy”

Humans have been in awe of Nature since our brains evolved to contemplate the amazing world we had emerged into – and we revered it. We still do today, but we extract what we need from it to serve ourselves and to mimic nature in our scientific endeavours. In doing so we chip away at our planet and take more for our needs than the planet can replenish. Our reverence has been eroded.

A few millennia ago, we used a belief system where individuals would try to mimic those creatures they saw around them which had great powers of strength, endurance and cunning.

When humans first arrived in the Americas they would find, depending on their hunter gathering locations, beaches along the Pacific differing in nature to the beaches on the Atlantic. It could only be the narrow isthmus, which is now Panama, where maybe they roamed between the two coasts. Usually the mountainous terrain, such as the Andes, created cultures which were moving between the beaches and the difficult mountainous areas, and in pockets of tribes rarely meeting one another. But all the tribes which grew into populations of millions, before the Spanish arrived, became familiar with the diversity of animal and sea life.

One magnificent creature they could not help but revere was the Jaguar.

Around 1600–1500 BCE, the early Olmec culture had lived in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, in the present-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco. They were the first Mesoamerican civilization, and laid many of the foundations for the civilizations that followed. It is possible they had a deity which was part human, part jaguar, born of woman which has been named by researchers as a were-jaguar.

Image of Olmec ‘were-jaguar’

The were-jaguar motif is characterized by almond-shaped eyes, a downturned open mouth, and a cleft head.

All major Mesoamerican civilizations prominently featured a jaguar god, and for many, such as the Olmec, the jaguar was an important part of shamanism. 

The shaman was deemed to have access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits. He would enter into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing. The trance was usually induced using mind altering drugs and the shaman would isolate himself and experience what he believed to be the warrior mode. He would have strength and skills to take on the fearful creatures he encountered in his visionary battles. When he came out of the trance he would show his followers that he had attained a higher level of understanding and could therefore offer his wisdom to help overcome problems the community faced. There was much theatre surrounding this practice, but it was important to reduce fear from the daily interaction with Nature, and to increase reverence to the world around them.

The shaman would isolate himself in a place built for this purpose:

Since the first Mesoamerican civilisation, the  Olmec and other  Mesoamerican civilisations which followed them, witnessed the animal’s habits, adopting the jaguar as an authoritative and martial symbol, and incorporated the animal into their mythology. The jaguar stands today, as it did in the past, as an important symbol in the lives of those who coexist with this feline.

God L is one of the oldest Mayan deities, and associated with trade, riches, and black sorcery, and belongs to the jaguar deities: he has jaguar ears, a jaguar mantle and lives in a jaguar palace. Some take him to be the main ruler over the Underworld. In that sense, he would have to be considered the true “Jaguar God of the Underworld”.

Image of God L

Jaguars have long been associated with Mayan civilisation who worshipped jaguar gods. Various inscriptions, murals and sculptures representing jaguars in warrior or god form have been found so far across Central America.

The recent discovery of fragments from feline figures is the second of its kind in almost a hundred years in El Salvador, according to the culture ministry. In 1924, remains of some 20 jaguar figures were found in a box excavated in north Cihuatan, the secretariat said.

This image below is a ceramic sculpture, representing a jaguar warrior, and was discovered in Cihuatan, the largest Mayan site in El Salvador. 

The Chavín Peruvian culture held its second most important deity as the fanged jaguar god, also a popular subject in Chavin art. These days as habitats for the Jaguar are destroyed by human hand to serve their own needs, it is more important than ever to preserve these magnificent creatures in the wild.

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The Jaguar of the Americas and implications for its origins: Part one 

Panthera onca is a genus within the Felidae family that was named and first described by the German naturalist Lorenz Oken in 1816. The British taxonomist Pocock revised the classification of this genus in 1916 as comprising the species lion, tiger, jaguar, and leopard on the basis of cranial features. Results of genetic analysis indicate that the snow leopard also belongs to the Panthera, a classification that was accepted by IUCN Red List assessors in 2008.

The tiger, lion, leopard, and jaguar are the only felines with the anatomical structure that enables them to roar. The ability to roar is due to morphological features, especially of the larynx. In Panthera species, the dorsal profile of the skull is flattish or evenly convex. The frontal interorbital area is not noticeably elevated, and the area behind the elevation is less steeply sloped. The basicranial axis is nearly horizontal. The inner chamber of the bullae is large, the outer small. The partition between them is close to the external auditory meatus. The convexly rounded chin is sloping. All Panthera species have an incompletely ossified hyoid bone. Specially adapted larynx with proportionally larger vocal folds are covered in a large fibro-elastic pad. These characteristics enable all Panthera species except snow leopard to roar.

Image of Jaguar skull fossil

Genetic studies indicate that pantherine cats diverged from the subfamily Felinae between six and ten million years ago. Fossil records that appear to belong within the genus Panthera reach only 2.0 to 3.8 million years back.

Genome mapping research by an international team under Henrique V. Figueiró et al. (See Genome-wide signatures of complex introgression and adaptive evolution in the big cats, Science Advances (2017). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700299 ) has concluded a surprising result. The researchers report that they found over 13,000 genes that were similar through all of the species included in the study. They also found that the cats all diverged from a single ancestor approximately 4.6 million years ago—one that was apparently most like the modern leopard. The team also found that all of the species populations have also declined over the past 300,000 years, which means lower genetic diversity.

All five extant species are represented as follows: lion (Panthera leo), leopard (Panthera pardus), jaguar (Panthera onca), snow leopard (Panthera uncia), and tiger (Panthera tigris).

Diagram of cats

One surprise they found was that the big cats have all engaged in cross-breeding multiple times over the course of their history, and because of that, have evolved new features that have proved useful in other areas. They suspect, for example, that the jaguar, which has the strongest bite of all the big cats, found itself with a larger head after breeding with lions—that may have led to a bite strength increase, which made it possible for them to hunt better protected animals in the New World.

The modern jaguar is thought to have descended from a pantherine ancestor in Asia that crossed the Beringian land bridge into North America during the Early Pleistocene. From North America, it spread to Central and South America. The ancestral jaguar in North America is referred to as Panthera onca augusta.

Unlike jaguars in South America, jaguars in Central or North America are fairly small. Those in the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve on the Mexican Pacific coast weigh just about 50 kg (110 lb), similar in weight as female cougars. 57.2 kg (126 lb) was the average for six males in Belize, making them similar to South American females in Venezuela.

Today the Jaguar is found in these locations:

Panthera Onca Arizonenis – Arizona and Mexico

Panthera Onca Centralis – Central America

Panthera Onca Goldmani – Mexico and Belize

Panthera Onca Hemandesii – Western Mexico

Panthera Onca Onca – Amazon Rainforest

Panthera Onca Palustris – Paraguay

Panthera Onca Peruvianas – Peru

Panthera Onca Veracrucis – Texas

In North America, the jaguar ranges from the southern part of the United States in the north, to the southern part of Central America in the south. Recently, jaguars of Mexican origin have been spotted in Arizona. Prior to that, the Arizona jaguar was treated as a cryptid cat.

In the early 1900s, the German scientist Alfred Wegener noticed that the coastlines of Africa and South America looked like they might fit together. He also discovered evidence that the same plant and animal fossils were found along the coasts of these continents, although they were now separated by vast oceans. In addition, he noticed that geologic formations, like mountain ranges, on the two continents also matched up. 

In 1915, Wegener published his book, The Origin of Continents and Oceans, suggesting that the earth’s continents were once joined together in one large mass. He called the original landmass (or supercontinent) “Pangaea,” the Greek word for “all the earth.” According to Wegener, over time “Pangaea” split apart and the different landmasses, or continents, drifted to their current locations on the globe.

We now know he was correct. It obviously took billions of years to create the various continents, but life likely sprang from the oceans. Many scientists think life got its start around 3.7 billion years ago in deep-sea hydrothermal vents. If so, life maybe formed first in the oceans, creating amphibian and then terrestrial life forms throughout the continents of the globe.

It is worth noting that wildlife existed in South America before the isthmus formed 2.8 million years ago. Fossils of the condor like bird, Argentavis magnificens (see earlier blog) found in Argentina are dated to over 5 million years old. Once the isthmus formed, species from North and South could intermingle and hybridize through direct species-to-species contact. We still don’t know for certain the origins of the Jaguar in the Americas. Perhaps there was an evolving cat already living in South America before the isthmus formed.

Jaguars are now an endangered species. They once roamed from Argentina in South America all the way up to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Today, jaguars have been almost completely eliminated from the United States and are endangered throughout their range, which stretches down to Patagonia in South America. 

The jaguar makes its home in a wide-variety of habitats including deciduous forests, rainforests, swamps, pampas grasslands and mountain scrub areas. These habitats are continuously being cut back for industrialised purposes and cattle farming. Since Jaguars sometimes prey on calves, they are often killed by farmers on sight.

“Jaguars had been eliminated in the United States. A female was shot by a hunter in Arizona’s White Mountains in 1963. Arizona outlawed jaguar hunting in 1969, but by then no females remained and over the next 25 years only two male jaguars were found (and killed) in Arizona. Then in 1996, Warner Glenn, a rancher and hunting guide from Douglas, Arizona, came across a jaguar in the Peloncillo Mountains and became a researcher on jaguars, placing webcams which recorded four more Arizona jaguars. No jaguars sighted in Arizona in the last 15 years had been seen since 2006. Then, in 2009, a male jaguar named Macho B died shortly after being radio-collared by Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) officials in 2009. In the Macho B incident, a former ADGF subcontractor pleaded guilty to violating the endangered species act for trapping the cat and a Game and Fish employee was fired for lying to federal investigators. In 2011, a male jaguar weighing 200 lb (91 kg) was photographed near Cochise in southern Arizona by a hunter after being treed by his dogs (the animal left the scene unharmed). A second 2011 sighting of an Arizona jaguar was reported by a Homeland Security border pilot in June 2011, and conservation researchers sighted two jaguars within 30 mi (48 km) of the border between Mexico and the United States in 2010.

In September 2012, a jaguar was photographed in the Santa Rita Mountains of Arizona, the second such sighting in this region in two years. This jaguar has been photographed numerous times over the past nine months through June 2013. On 3 February 2016, the Center for Biological Diversity released a video of this jaguar – now named El Jefe (Spanish for “The Boss”) – roaming the Santa Rita Mountains, about 25 mi (40 km) south of downtown Tucson. El Jefe is the fourth jaguar sighted in the Madrean Sky Islands in southern Arizona and New Mexico, over the last 20 years.

On 16 November 2016, a jaguar was spotted in the Dos Cabezas Mountains of Arizona, 60 mi (97 km) from the Mexican border, the farthest north one of these animals has been spotted in many decades. It is the seventh jaguar to be confirmed in the Southwest since 1996. On 1 December 2016, another male jaguar was photographed on Fort Huachuca also in Arizona. In February 2017, authorities revealed that a third jaguar had been photographed in November 2016, by the Bureau of Land Management in the Dos Cabezas Mountains, also in Arizona, some 100.0 km (62.1 miles) north of the border with Mexico. The only picture obtained allowed experts to determine this is a different individual, but it does not reveal its gender.


Legal action by the Center for Biological Diversity led to federal listing of the cat on the endangered species list in 1997. However, on January 7, 2008, George W. Bush appointee H. Dale Hall, Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), signed a recommendation to abandon jaguar recovery as a federal goal under the Endangered Species Act. Critics, including the Center of Biological Diversity and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, were concerned the jaguar was being sacrificed for the government’s new border fence, which is to be built along many of the cat’s typical crossings between the United States and Mexico.

In 2010, however, the Obama Administration reversed the policy of the Bush Administration, and pledged to protect “critical habitat” and draft a recovery plan for the species. The USFWS was ultimately ordered by the court to develop a jaguar recovery plan and designate critical habitat for the cats. On 20 August 2012, the USFWS proposed setting aside 838,232 acres in Arizona and New Mexico — an area larger than Rhode Island — as critical jaguar habitat. On 4 March 2014 Federal wildlife officials set aside nearly 1,200 square miles along the U.S.-Mexico border as habitat essential for the conservation of the jaguar. The reservation includes parts of Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties in Arizona and Hidalgo County in New Mexico. In September 2015, El Jefe was photographed via camera trap and analysis of his spots confirms that he has been in southeastern Arizona (30 mi (48 km) south of Tucson) since 2011. Jaguars have been present in this region every year since 1997. El Jefe and other males may have originated from a breeding population in Sonora, Mexico, 125 mi (201 km) to the south of Tucson.

Northern Jaguar Project

The Northern Jaguar Project is a conservation effort on behalf of the jaguar that is headed by an Arizona-based organization of the same name, in conjunction with Mexico’s Naturalia. It is focused on protecting the jaguars living near the border between the United States and Mexico. The core of the project is the Northern Jaguar Reserve. The project began in 2003 with the purchase of the 10,000 acre Los Pavos Ranch in northern Mexico, just 125 mi (201 km) south of the border. In 2008 it was expanded to more than double its size when Rancho Zetasora was acquired. Both ranches are remote, difficult to access, and relatively untouched, making them perfect habitat, not just for jaguars, but for many other species as well. The Northern Jaguar Project is the “northernmost location where jaguars, mountain lions, bobcats, and ocelots are all found in the same vicinity”, and the park also features a variety of floral habitats as well.

The project is also focused on efforts to create a stable jaguar population in Northwestern Mexico. However, its long term aspirations include a return of the jaguar to the Southwestern United States. The potential for such a re-introduction is deemed high, since as much as 30% of Arizona alone is considered to be a suitable habitat for the jaguar.”

Extract from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_jaguar
Image of El Jefe

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The Sacred Condor

The magnificent Condor is a familiar and respected scavenger bird which flies over the Americas. Condors are part of the family Cathartidae which contains the New World vultures. The Andean Condor‭ (‬Vultur gryphus‭)‬,‭ ‬is thought to possibly be the most similar living bird to the Late Miocene Argentavis magnificens, but less than half its size.‭ ‬

According to the current consensus, birds, known as Aves and a sister group, the order Crocodilia, together are the sole living members of an unranked “reptile” clade, the Archosauria. Archosaurs Temporal range: Early Triassic–Present, 250–0 Ma . The earliest archosaurs were rauisuchians, such as Scythosuchus and Tsylmosuchus, both of which have been found in Russia and date back to the Olenekian in the Early Triassic.

Archosaurs quickly became the dominant land vertebrates in the early Triassic. Fossils from before the mass extinction have only been found around the Equator, but after the event fossils can be found all over the world.

Four distinct lineages of bird survived the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago, giving rise to ostriches and relatives (Paleognathae), ducks and relatives (Anseriformes), ground-living fowl (Galliformes), and “modern birds” (Neoaves).

Non-avian dinosaurs and pterosaurs perished in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, but birds (the only remaining dinosaur group) and crocodilians survived. Both are descendants of archosaurs, and are therefore archosaurs themselves under phylogenetic taxonomy.

California condors are the largest flying land birds in North America. The Andean condor is second only to the wandering albatross (up to 3.5 m) in terms of wingspan among all living flying birds.

The researchers behind a 2016 study in The Condor: Ornithological Applications analyzed samples from condor museum (California) specimens dating back to the 1820s and found that the historical population was surprisingly diverse, but that a substantial amount of that diversity was lost in the last two centuries. This finding supports the hypothesis that condors were fairly widespread and abundant prior to increases in human-caused mortality, which likely drove their numbers down quickly in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Californian Condors nearly went extinct in the 1980s as a result of hunting, lead contamination, DDT poisoning, and other factors. The last 22 California condors were brought into captivity in 1987 in a last-ditch effort to breed them in safety and save the species from disappearing.

That desperate move was a success. Today, the California condor population has risen and the birds have returned to the skies above California, Arizona, Utah, and Baja, Mexico.

Today, some try to conserve the rapidly diminishing endangered species who have suffered so much from selfish human activities. But relentless industrialisation is reducing species at a frightening rate, and we humans will likewise perish quite soon if the global industrial system continues to recite its mantra of “growth” and obsession with share price investments.

It doesn’t take much imagination to envisage the abundance of condors flying during the Mesoamerican era. They represented god-like powers to those who recognised their special attributes. No-one was going to persecute them, they were too revered.

The Incas believed the Condor was climbing high to freedom. On its wings it carried the spirit of the dead to the upper world. To ‘become’ a condor, a person must first achieve the status of a condor, change, give up old ways, renew oneself, as the snake shed its skin to reveal a new skin. And in this way the person may achieve wisdom and stability as one observes in the puma, then the way home to the afterlife will be opened up. The snake, the condor, the puma represent spiritual levels toward the afterlife. The Incas believed that death is not an end but rather the beginning of a new cycle. The ancestors deemed that time is non-linear, but everything has its cycle that ends and begins again.

It was maybe just as well they held this comforting thought as so many Incas and other indigenous people were to die in a short period of time after the Spanish invaded their homelands.

But what flew before the Condor, before humans ever walked the Earth?

During the 1970s and 80s, researchers found fossils of such birds.

At first Argentavis magnificens seemed to be the largest ever found, but now the record is broken by PELAGORNIS SANDERSI.

Chart of A.magnificens compared to Condor

Let us first find out about the former, then learn about the latter.

Argentavis magnificens ( named by Campbell‭ & ‬Tonni‭ ‬-‭ ‬1980) translated simply as ‘magnificent Argentinian bird’ – stunned the world when it was unearthed.

A. magnificens, sometimes called the giant teratorn, has been identified due to a good number of extinct species fossils being found from three sites in the Epecuén and Andalhuala Formations in central and northwestern Argentina. They have been dated to the Late Miocene, Messinian,(also Huayquerian is used more specifically with South American Land Mammal Ages. It follows the Mayoan and precedes the Montehermosan age).

The Late Miocene Epoch covers 11.6 million to 5.3 million years ago. The Miocene may also be divided into six ages and their corresponding rock stages: from oldest to youngest these ages or stages are the Aquitanian, Burdigalian, Langhian, Serravallian, Tortonian, and Messinian. The Miocene followed the Oligocene Epoch of the Paleogene Period and was succeeded by the Pliocene Epoch.

Argentavis most probably used its large wings to exploit a combination of thermal up draughts‭ ‬as well as dynamic soaring.‭ ‬Dynamic soaring is essentially where a flying creature uses the boundary between two air masses to pick up speed by cartwheeling into oncoming wind and using the wind speed to accelerate itself forward.‭ ‬Repeating this process further increases the speed of the bird and resulting effect of the next manoeuvre resulting in an extremely energy efficient form of flight,‭ ‬one that is now even used by human glider pilots to stay airborne longer.

A. magnificens wingspan is estimated at 4 m (13 ft). A.magnificens could spot carrion and would behave much like that of a scavenger bird today, perhaps similar to the Condor. Scavenging would also require little in the way of active movement,‭ ‬reducing the required number of calories to keep its body going.

In 2014 there was enough data to declare to the world that the largest bird fossil to date had been found, named  PELAGORNIS SANDERSI . The fossil was unearthed in 1983 in Charleston, South Carolina. At the time the bird lived, 25 million years ago, this area was an ocean. The bird is named after Albert Sanders, the former curator of natural history at Charleston Museum, who led the excavation. It was so big they had to remove it using a JCB.

They flew during the Oligocene ( /ˈɒlɪɡoʊsiːn/) a geologic epoch of the Paleogene Period which extends from about 33.9 million to 23 million years before the present. 

Working from a fossil skull, as well as wing and leg bones, researchers calculated the likely size of the bird and modelled possible flight styles – including flapping and gliding. From computer modelling it was estimated the bird weighed up to 180lbs (81.5kg), yet it managed to fly and soar on the thermals just like the Condor today. The skeletal wingspan (excluding feathers) of P. sandersi is estimated at 5.2 m (17 ft) while that of A. magnificens is estimated at 4 m (13 ft).

Its paper-thin hollow bones, stumpy legs and wing shape made it similar to birds that fly today, and this would have made it awkward when on land.

Its size and telltale beak suggested the creature was a previously unknown species of pelagornithid – an extinct group of giant seabirds believed to be ancestors of pelicans and storks.

They were known for bony ‘teeth’ that lined their jaws.

The more we seek knowledge about past life forms, the greater we respect the wonder within this special planet. 

When wealthy elites seek to gain kudos from seeming to campaign to ‘save the planet’ whilst cynically increasing their wealth through dark means, we may foolishly follow them to human extinction. We must be careful to avoid their manipulation of our good intentions and natural caring and direct our energies where it really counts.


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