The Aztec macuahuitl, a sword with obsidian blades, was sharp enough to decapitate a horse

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Since ancient days, people have developed sophisticated weapons to fill their arsenals. In ancient Egypt, the khopesh was a notoriously deadly sword on the battlefield. A khopesh would typically be cast out of a single piece of bronze that was quite heavy, and it looked like a cross between a battle ax and a sword. Even Ramses II is portrayed as wielding one of these.

A Japanese officer of the Edo era would make great use of a sodegarami (the word itself means “sleeve entangler”). This weapon looked like a spiked pole, and it allowed the officers to confront any antagonist with a quick twist, bringing the attacked person to the ground but not necessarily inflicting severe wounds.

When it comes to the Aztec warriors, perhaps their best asset on the battlefield was the macuahuitl. Known as the Aztec sword, this weapon was not a real sword cast in metal but made from oak wood. Its edges were set with obsidian blades (volcanic glass), and Aztec warriors used these to slash throats and inflict painful wounds that caused heavy bleeding.

When Cortés arrived in Central America, he certainly witnessed the strength of the Aztecs on the battlefield. Chronicles of his battles and similar historical documents tell that the Aztecs were fearsome people. Their society and culture were largely built on warriorhood.

Both the jaguar and the eagle were emblematic predators that added to the Aztec culture, and warriors would typically dress to look like one of the two. They believed such appearance would spread fear among their adversaries. If a new warrior was to join the Aztec battle groups, he could do so only if he captured an enemy soldier first.

The Aztec had a well-thought-out system on how the military should function, and a well-developed strategy for the battlefields too. The Aztec warriors who used the macuahuitl would step forward during a battle only when the archers or slingers advanced close to the adversary. In a close encounter with the enemy, the macuahuitl was their best asset in hands.

Resembling a cricket bat, the macuahuitl had a length typically extending some three and a half feet. While numerous examples of this weapon were managed with one hand only, there were others who required two hands to grab and fight.

Depending on its size, the weapon had between four and eight razor-sharp blades along each side, but this varied, with some macuahuitl embracing a complete single edge formed by the unusual volcanic material. No matter the design, the obsidian could not be pulled out. The Aztecs would wield their swords with short and chopping movements, and, as many accounts suggest, they cut off some heads.

Besides the macuahuitl, the Aztec made use of the tepoztopilli, one more weapon carved out of wood and fitted with obsidian blades. However, the tepoztopilli was more like a type of polearm. It was spear-like, with a large wedge head on the front, and at five to six feet long, the entire piece was a bit longer than the macuahuitl.

Cortés’ conquistadors certainly had plenty of opportunities to see the power of the Aztec weaponry demonstrated first hand. Several of the Spanish horse riders reported that the Aztec swords were able to decapitate not only a human head but that of a horse. The blades would inflict a wound so deep in the animal, its head would cleave off to hang only by the skin.

Contrary to popular belief, the deadly macuahuitl was not an invention of the Aztec themselves, but rather a weapon widespread among distinct groups of Central Mexico and likely in other places of Mesoamerica as well.

Even Christopher Columbus was fascinated by the strength of this weapon when he encountered it after reaching the Americas. He gave orders to his people to collect a sample to show back in Spain.

Today, there aren’t any original macuahuitl  surviving, only various re-creations of the weapon based on knowledge extracted from contemporary accounts and illustrations produced during the 16th century or earlier.

It is believed that the last authentic macuahuitl was destroyed in a fire in the Real Armería de Madrid, where the weapon was kept for a long time next to the last original tepoztopilli.

By Stefan Andrews

An Argentinean engineer could have developed a “rainmaking machine” as early as the 1930s, though there’s no trace of it today

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The song “Cloudbusting,” released by Kate Bush in 1985, was based on Peter Reich’s childhood memories about his father’s rainmaking machine, the “cloudbuster.” Wilhelm Reich was a controversial Austrian doctor and psychoanalyst who, among other things, experimented with artificially stimulating rainfall. By the time Reich died in prison in 1957, he had become infamous for his radical and overtly sexual psychology methods and pseudo-scientific practices; reportedly, no academic journal released an obituary for him.

Another person who supposedly created a rainmaking device, and for whom, according to the Epoch Times, there also seems to be a dedicated song, was an Argentinean engineer named Juan Baigorri Velar. It was written in Spanish, and includes the following lines:

“Let it rain, let it rain
Baigorri is in the cave
Plug in the device, and watch it rain…”

Baigorri was allegedly able to interrupt drought seasons in remote areas of Argentina by using a mysterious machine of his own invention that he devised in the 1930s, and that only he knew how to operate. Today, unsurprisingly, there is no trace of Baigorri’s device.

Reports about Baigorri’s machine can be found in various newspaper archives that published stories about him, both in Argentina and internationally. Many details of Baigorri’s personal life are unknown or controversial. The Epoch Times writes that he was of Basque origin, and that he studied engineering. He also pursued a university degree in Geophysics after studying in Milan, Italy.

Baigorri created a device that was meant to find underground water sources by generating electromagnetic emissions. The Argentinean is said to have observed that when he used the device, it had an effect on the immediate environment, seemingly causing a small amount of precipitation in his surroundings. Therefore, he considered improving the device in order to use it for perhaps more significant things.

 As some sources claim, it seems he had luck in his efforts. He devised a more complex machine that was able to attract all sorts of clouds in the skies. Newspapers of the day say that he reputedly created rainfall in areas of Argentina that were severely affected by dry seasons. Some people even called him the “Rain Wizard.” As soon as he appeared in a drought-stricken area, he produced inches of rains after plugging in the enigmatic device.

According to the Epoch Times, in the province of Santiago, in the north of Argentina, he stopped a drought period that had persisted for nearly one-and-a-half years. On another occasion, in 1951, he visited San Juan, a remote area that hadn’t experienced rain in some eight years. Shortly after Baigorri arrived, it is said that 1.2 inches of rain fell.

The rainmaking machine made Baigorri a popular man, and not only in Argentina. There were interested parties all the way from the U.S. who wanted to patent his invention. But Baigorri turned down such offers, explaining his machine was for Argentina only.

While many applauded Baigorri, others were reluctant to believe that a man can command the skies as if he were a god. People who perceived him as a charlatan included officials from the National Meteorological Service. Baigorri was reportedly challenged by them in 1939 to produce rainfall in Buenos Aires. Though he allegedly did create dark clouds which sent heavy showers to the country’s capital, people remained divided into believers and non-believers of his feats. It was also reported that heavy rains had been forecast on that particular day by meteorologists.

Baigorri kept the internal workings of machine clandestine. He never shared the details, although the Epoch Times reports that the machine had two settings: one for light rain, the other for heavy clouds that would bring a real downpour.

When Baigorri died a poor man in 1972, aged 81, his machine also seems to have disappeared. Nobody knew its whereabouts, nor how it worked. It is rumored that on the day of his funeral, it rained cats and dogs, an epilogue that might sound as if it was taken out of a magic-realism book penned by a literary giant such as Jorge Luis Borges.

Just for the record, in 1946, U.S. chemist and meteorologist Vincent Joseph Schaefer received official credit for inventing cloud seeding, a moment that signaled the beginning of an era of scientific experiments in the domain of weather control.

 Stefan Andrews

Anthropology: The sad truth about uncontacted tribes

(Funai) (Credit: Funai)

On July 1,, the Brazilian governmental agency in charge of indigenous Indian affairs, quietly posted a short press release on its website: two days earlier, they said, seven members of an isolated Indian tribe emerged from the Amazon and made peaceful contact with people in a village near the Peruvian border.

As the first official contact with such a tribe since 1996, the event was out of the ordinary. But the event itself could have been anticipated. For weeks, local villagers in Brazil’s Acre state had reported sightings of the tribesman, who supposedly came to steal crops, axes and machetes, and who “mimicked monkey cries” that frightened women and children.

Two members of an isolated indigenous tribe from the Amazon (Funai) (Credit: Funai)

Two members of an isolated indigenous tribe from the Amazon investigate a settled community of villagers in Acre, Brazil (Funai)

The Indians’ decision to make contact was not driven by a desire for material goods, however, but by fear. With the help of translators who spoke a closely related indigenous Panoan language, the Acre Indians explained that “violent attacks” by outsiders had driven them from the forest. Later, details emerged that their elder relatives were massacred, and their houses set on fire. Illegal loggers and cocaine traffickers in Peru, where the Indians are thought to come from, are likely to blame, according to the Brazilian government. Indeed, Funai’s own nearby monitoring post was shut down in 2011 due to increasing escalations with drug traffickers.


After they decided the situation called for drastic measures, the Indians did not just stumble upon the Brazilian village by chance – they probably knew exactly where to go. “They know far more about the outside world than most people think,” says Fiona Watson, research director for the non-profit organisation Survival International. “They are experts at living in the forest and are well aware of the presence of outsiders.”

This gets to the heart of a common misconception surrounding isolated tribes such as the one in Acre: that they live in a bubble of wilderness, somehow missing the fact that their small corner of the world is in fact part of a much greater whole – and one that is dominated by other humans. “Almost all human communities have been in some contact with one another for as long as we have historical or archaeological records,” says Alex Golub, an anthropologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Human prehistory is not like that game Civilizationwhere you start with a little hut and the whole map is black.”

Fear factor

Today’s so-called uncontacted people all have a history of contact, whether from past exploitation or simply seeing a plane flying overhead. The vast majority of an estimated 100 or more isolated tribes live in Brazil, but others can be found in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and northern Paraguay. Outside of the Americas, isolated groups live in Papua New Guinea and on North Sentinel Island of India’s Andaman Islands, the latter of which is home to what experts think is the most isolated tribe in the world, the Sentinelese. Nothing is known about their language, and Indian authorities have only rough estimates of how many of them exist today. But even the Sentinelese have had occasional brushes with other societies; members of their tribe have been kidnapped, helicopters sometimes fly over their island and they have killed fishermen who have ventured too close.

A member of the Yora tribe from the border between Bolivia and Peru - 1986 (Kim Hill) (Credit: Kim Hill)

A member of the Yora tribe from the border between Bolivia and Peru – 1986 (Kim Hill)

It is almost always fear that motivates such hostilities and keeps isolated groups from making contact. In past centuries and even decades, isolated tribes were often murdered and enslaved by outsiders. From the time white Europeans first arrived in the Americas, indigenous peoples learned to fear them, and passed that message down generations through oral histories. “People have this romanticised view that isolated tribes have chosen to keep away from the modern, evil world,” says Kim Hill, an anthropologist at Arizona State University. But when Hill and others interview people who recently came out of isolation, the same story emerges time and time again: they were interested in making contact with the outside world, but they were too afraid to do so. As Hill puts it: “There is no such thing as a group that remains in isolation because they think it’s cool to not have contact with anyone else on the planet.”

Some have personal memories of traumatic encounters with outsiders. In the 1960s and 70s, Brazil largely viewed the Amazon as an empty place in need of development. Indigenous people who stood in the way of that progress were given little or no warning before their homes were bulldozed over – or they were simply killed. In one case in Brazil’s Rondônia state, a single man, often referred to as “the Last of His Tribe,” remains in a patch of forest surrounded by cattle ranches. His people were likely killed by ranchers years ago. When he was discovered in 1996, he shot arrows at anyone who dared to approach his home. Funai officials sometimes check up on his house and garden, and, as far as anyone knows, he’s still living there today. “It’s a really sad story of this one little pocket of forest left where this one lone guy lives,” says Robert Walker, an anthropologist at the University of Missouri. “He’s probably completely terrified of the outside world.”

People from Brazil's Guaja tribe (Rob Walker) (Credit: Rob Walker)

People from Brazil’s Guaja tribe (Rob Walker)

In some cases in the 70s and 80s, the Brazilian government did try to establish peaceful contact with indigenous people, often with the aim of forced assimilation or relocation. They set up “attraction posts” – offerings of metal tools and other things indigenous Indians might find to be valuable – to try and lure them out of hiding. This sometimes led to violent altercations, or, more often than not, disease outbreaks. Isolated people have no immunity to some bugs, which have been known to wipe out up to half of a village’s population in a matter of weeks or months. During those years, missionaries traipsing into the jungle also delivered viruses and bacteria along with Bibles, killing the people they meant to save.

In 1987, Sydney Possuelo – then head of Funai’s Department of Unknown Tribes – decided that the current way of doing things was unacceptable. After seeing tribe after tribe demolished by disease, he concluded that isolated people should not be contacted at all. Instead, natural reserves should be placed aside for them to live on, and any contact attempts should be left up to them to initiate. “Isolated people do not manifest among us – they don’t ask anything of us – they live and die mostly without our knowledge,” he says. When we do contact them, he says, they too often share a common fate: “desecration, disease and death.”

Viral event

Unfortunately, history seems to be repeating itself. Three weeks after the Indians in Acre made contact, Funai announced that several of them had contracted the flu. All of them subsequently received treatment and vaccinations, but they soon returned to the forest. The fear, now, is that they will carry the foreign virus back with them to their home, spreading it to others who have no natural immunity.

“It’s hard to say what’s going to happen, other than to make doomsday predictions,” Hill says. “So far, things are looking just like they looked in the past.”

Possuelo – who was fired from Funai in 2006 after a disagreement with his boss over some of these concerns – issues a more direct warning: “What they do in Acre is very worrying: they are going to kill the isolated people,” he says. “The president of Funai and the Head of the Isolated Indians Department should be held accountable for not meeting established standards.” (Funai did not respond to interview requests for this story.)

Surprisingly, no international protocol exists that outlines how to avoid this predicament. “Every government and group involved in making contact just wings it according to their own resources and experiences,” Hill says.

The common problem is a lack of institutional memory. Even in places like Brazil with decades of experience, Hill says, “each new government official takes on the task without knowing much about what happened in the past.” Some officials, he adds, have minimal expertise. “Quasi-amateur is what I’d call them: government officials who come in with no medical, anthropological or epidemiological training.”

Total denial

The situation in Peru, Watson points out, is even worse. “At one stage, the Peruvian government denied that uncontacted people even exist,” she says. And now major oil and gas operations are allowed to operate on reserves containing their villages. Added to that is the presence of illegal loggers and drug traffickers – making for a very crowded forest.

A satellite image of a remote village (Google/Rob Walker) (Credit: Google/Rob Walker)

A satellite image of a remote village (Google/Rob Walker)

Native people living there seem to be well aware of these encroachments. Google Earth satellite images that Walker recently analysed reveal that one large isolated village in Peru seems to be migrating, year by year, further afield from outside encroachment on their land, including a planned road project. “Most people argue that what’s going on here is that they’re potentially being forced out of Peru,” he says. “It seems like they are running away.”

When accidental harm from the outside world seems inevitable, Hill argues it would be better if we initiated contact. Slowly building up a long-distance friendship, he explains, and then carrying out a controlled contact meeting with medical personnel on site would be preferable. After that initial contact is made, anthropologists should be prepared to go back into the forest with the group and stay on site to monitor the situation for several months, as well as build up trust and communication. That way, if an epidemic should break out, help can be called for. “You can’t just tell them after 15 minutes, ‘Oh, by the way, if your whole village gets sick, send everyone out to this spot to get medical treatment,’” Hill says. “They won’t comply with that.”

It’s unclear whether or not such a plan is being carried out in Acre, however. “Funai is not the most transparent organisation, and they have complete monopoly on what happens to remote people in Brazil,” Hill says. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t work in the best interest of native peoples.”

Several members of an isolated indigenous tribe from the Amazon (Funai) (Credit: Funai)

Several members of an isolated indigenous tribe from the Amazon (Funai)

To ensure isolated groups have a future, both Brazil and Peru might need to become more transparent as well as more proactive about protecting them. No matter how remote the Amazon might seem, unlike the Sentinelese, South America’s isolated groups do not live on an island cut off from the forces of mainstream society. “Everywhere you look, there are these pressures from mining, logging, narcotrafficking and other external threats,” Walker says. “My worry is that if we have this ‘leave-them-alone’ strategy, at the end of the day the external threats will win. People will just go extinct.”

Thanks to João Victor Geronasso for translation help for this story. 

First published 2014  By Rachel Nuwer


The ancient Peruvian mystery solved from space

In one of the most arid regions in the world a series of carefully constructed, spiralling holes form lines across the landscape. Known as puquios, their origin has been a puzzle – one that could only be solved from space.

The holes are from the Nasca region of Peru – an area famous for the Nasca lines, several enormous geometric images carved into the landscape; immaculate archaeological evidence of ceremonial burials; and the rapid decline of this once flourishing society.

What adds to the intrigue in the native ancient people of Nasca is how they were able to survive in an area where droughts can last for years at a time.

The puquios were a “sophisticated hydraulic system constructed to retrieve water from underground aquifers,” says Rosa Lasaponara of the Institute of Methodologies for Environmental Analysis, in Italy. And they transformed this inhospitable region.

(Credit: Ab5602/Wikimedia/Public Domain)

The funnel-like shape helped to draw the wind down into the underground canals (Credit: Ab5602/Wikimedia/Public Domain)

The puquio system must have been much more developed than it appears today

Lasaponara and her team studied the puquios using satellite imaging. From this, the team were able to better understand how the puquios were distributed across the Nasca region, and where they ran in relation to nearby settlements – which are easier to date.

“What is clearly evident today is that the puquio system must have been much more developed than it appears today,” says Lasaponara. “Exploiting an inexhaustible water supply throughout the year the puquio system contributed to an intensive agriculture of the valleys in one of the most arid places in the world.”

A series of canals brought the water, trapped underground, to the areas where it was needed; anything left was stored in surface reservoirs. To help keep it moving, chimneys were excavated above the canals in the shape of corkscrewing funnels. These funnels let wind into the canals, which forced the water through the system.

Like many other South American cultures the Nasca had no writing system

“The puquios were the most ambitious hydraulic project in the Nasca area and made water available for the whole year, not only for agriculture and irrigation but also for domestic needs,” says Lasaponara, who has written about her satellite studies in Ancient Nasca World: New Insights from Science and Archaeology, which is due to be published later this year.

The origin of the puquios has remained a mystery to researchers because it was not possible to use traditional carbon dating techniques on the tunnels. Nor did the Nasca leave any clues as to their origin. Like many other South American cultures they had no writing system.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Some think the famous ‘Nasca lines’ related to the presence of water (Credit: Getty Images)

Their existence tells us something remarkable about the people who lived in the Nasca region from before 1,000 BC to AD750. “The construction of the puquios involved the use of particularly specialised technology,” says Lasaponara. Not only did the builders of the puquios need a deep understanding of the geology of the area and annual variations in water availability, maintaining the canals was a technical challenge as they spread across tectonic faults.

What makes them even more remarkable is that they still function today

“What is really impressive is the great efforts, organisation and cooperation required for their construction and regular maintenance,” she says. That meant a regular dependable water supply for centuries, in an area that’s one of the most arid places on Earth.

“Maintenance was likely based on a collaborative and socially organised system, similar to that adopted for the construction of the famous ’Nasca lines‘ which in some cases are clearly related to the presence of water.” The quality of construction was so good, that some of the puquios still function today.

These structures show the native people of the Nasca basin were not only highly organised, but that their society was structured in a hierarchy, says Lasaponara. She says the puquios were vital in “controlling water distribution by those in power over the communities that came under their influence.” Knowing how to bring water to one of the driest places on earth means that you hold the very key to life itself.

By William Park

EcoCamp Patagonia

EcoCamp Patagonia was voted as one of the best hotels in the world, and for good reason.

EcoCamp Patagonia is an award-winning and critically and publicly lauded sustainable hotel located in the heart of Torres del Paine National Park. First opened in 2001 and composed of eco-friendly and completely sustainable geodesic domes, EcoCamp was the first hotel of its kind in the world, and since then, has become an industry leader in sustainable lodging, inspiring the opening of eight other similar hotels worldwide. EcoCamp not only provides a comfortable oasis in the park where visitors can connect with nature while still enjoying modern amenities and delicious meals, but also has exciting and diverse excursion options for everyone!

As the name suggests, it is an eco-friendly destination that uses renewable energy sources to run all operations. Additionally, it makes use of local food sources for all meals.

But it goes far above this environmentally conscious approach to give guests an experience of a lifetime, every time.

Its scenic location right in the heart of the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is a huge plus for the location. 

EcoCamp Patagonia

The camp comprises a number of geodesic domes with standard and premium accommodation features.

It also has a community dome for hanging out and a Yoga dome offering classes for groups and individual enthusiasts. 

EcoCamp Patagonia

One of its most outstanding aspects is the unique accommodation that offers a perfect blend between a camp and hotel.

The picturesque environment provides a unique opportunity to connect with nature through such activities as hiking, climbing, bicycling and a host of excursions. 

EcoCamp Patagonia

EcoCamp Patagonia

EcoCamp Patagonia

EcoCamp Patagonia

EcoCamp Patagonia

In 1977 Argentina sent a pregnant woman to Antarctica in an attempt to claim partial possession of the continent

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Since 1940 Argentina and Chile have been in competition for ownership of Antarctica. Many other countries are involved in this “competition” for the territory, but no one truly owns the land or has actual sovereignty. Almost everyone dropped their claims after the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 was signed by 45 countries, which blocked any one nation from trying to take over the winter wonderland.

Argentina and Chile remained in this competition even after the Antarctic Treaty was signed. Both claim that the Antarctic Peninsula is a continuation of the Andes Mountains.

Esperanza Station, Hope Bay, Trinity Peninsula, on the northernmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo Credit

Many still wonder why is it both countries want to own the Antarctic Peninsula. There are some reserves of coal, oil and other minerals, but no one knows exactly how much, and the mining and extracting of coal and oil is illegal.

In 1977 the Chilean President Augusto Pinochet visited the Antarctica to assert his country’s dominance in the region. This was perfectly normal compared to what the Argentinians did in retaliation. They used the most extreme action, and sent a pregnant woman to the barren and unpopulated continent of Antarctica in an attempt to stake a land claim there. She was supposed to give birth on the continent after being dropped at the Argentinian Esperanza Base.

Children, adolescents and teachers of the school of Esperanza Base receiving computers. Photo Credit

Silvia Morello de Palma became the first woman in recorded history to give birth on the continent. On January 7, 1978, Emilio Palma was born in Antarctica, the first person to be born there. After his birth, the Argentine government passed a law banning any maps of Argentina that didn’t include Antarctica.

Chile decided to play along and make this dispute even more absurd than it was. They sent recently married couples to their own Antarctic base in order to claim the first baby both conceived and born in the territory.

Correos de Chile office in Antarctica.

That started the baby boom in Antarctica. By 2009, eleven children had been born in Antarctica. Eight of them were born at the Argentinian Esperanza Base, while the other three were born at Chile’s Base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva. Chile’s first official Antarctican is Juan Pablo Camacho Martino, born on November 21, 1984.

The countries both sent couples a year at a time in their bids to secure their Antarctic territory.

By Goran Blazeski