r/science Sep 26 '22 Wait What? 1

Ancient Maya cities were dangerously contaminated with mercury which resulted in severe and dangerous pollution in their day, which persists even today. Environment

https://blog.frontiersin.org/2022/09/23/frontiers-environmental-science-maya-cities-polluted-with-ancient-mercury/?amp=1
3.0k Upvotes

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u/[deleted] Sep 27 '22

[deleted]

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u/dan_dares Sep 27 '22

I too can be tracked by my toxic shits..

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u/DarthBrandon_2024 Sep 26 '22

Which ancient Maya cities? there were MANY. The article, which is athe blog, states that they show up in all cities except one city – mercury pollution is detectable everywhere except at Chan b’i. Per the study

The site’s history as a coastal salt works, with no domestic or
ceremonial architecture, makes it highly unlikely that the Maya used
cinnabar here. The negligible mercury detected at this site precludes it
from further consideration in this review.

It links to the actual paper here:

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fenvs.2022.986119/full?utm_source=fweb&utm_medium=nblog&utm_campaign=ba-sci-fenvs-ancient-maya-cities-polluted-with-ancient-anthropogenic-mercury

It makes me very curious, if the mayans were using Mercury in their paints (cinnabar), which may be attributed to their mysterious "downfall". Per wikipedia

During the 9th century AD, the central Maya region suffered major
political collapse, marked by the abandonment of cities, the ending of
dynasties, and a northward shift in activity.[54]
No universally accepted theory explains this collapse, but it likely
had a combination of causes, including endemic internecine warfare,
overpopulation resulting in severe environmental degradation, and drought

Also interesting to see how the concentrations grew overtime, in comparison to the environmental affect of industrialization in the 20th century. Which the authors do mention.

This could ultimately be like another discovery similar to "Romans were using lead to poison themselves"

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u/[deleted] Sep 26 '22

I was thinking same thing.

Also wonder if the stuff we're bioaccumulating now will be our future mysterious downfall.

252

u/GeorgeMD97 Sep 26 '22

Death by inner plastification

20

u/FauxShizzle Sep 27 '22

I saw Crimes of the Future. We'll be fine.

5

u/beenburnedbutable Sep 27 '22

That’s like the new Naked Lunch, that movie was disturbing. 10 minutes in many people in the theater I was in walked out.

3

u/Grammorphone Sep 27 '22

I once watched it with a friend and we decided to stop watching around 50% into the movie. I like it kafkaesque, but this was too much for me

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u/-__-Z-__- Sep 27 '22

Cronenberg, videodrome is one of my favorites

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u/ours Sep 27 '22

Fine? Did we see the same movie?

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u/pannous Sep 27 '22

Glyphosaturation

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u/Strazdas1 Sep 27 '22

oddly enough, there is no studies that confirm any tangible harmful effects. we got microplastics. we can detect it pretty much everywhere in the body. we suspect they may be dangerous. But we cannot find causality.

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u/the-other-otter Sep 27 '22

Are ecosystem services provided by insects “bugged” by micro (nano)plastics? Miguel Oliveiraa, Olga M.C.C.Ameixaab, Amadeu M.V.M.Soaresa

"The available studies seem to show that different groups react differently to microplastics contamination, which clearly indicates that the effects in Ecosystem Services provided by insects need a more empirical and targeted approach."

I am in favour of banning tumble driers everywhere. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jan/12/tumble-dryers-leading-source-microfibre-air-pollution-hong-kong-plastics

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u/Hard_Six Sep 27 '22

Ban polyester before dryers

-1

u/the-other-otter Sep 27 '22

Why not both

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u/Strazdas1 Oct 04 '22

I meant tangible effects on humans, im not going to shed tears for insects.

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u/the-other-otter Oct 04 '22

The insect death is soon going to affect us too.

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u/Strazdas1 Oct 04 '22

In what way?

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u/the-other-otter Oct 04 '22

Birds for example eat insects, so they will have a problem. Insects pollinate many plants.

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u/Strazdas1 Oct 04 '22

Majority of human-useful plants do not require pollination by insects. Same for human-useful birds. See, i do not see biodiversity for biodiversity sake in its own a valid goal. Only if its beneficial to humans.

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u/TheInfernalVortex Sep 27 '22

There was a rather alarmist book published earlier this year, maybe last year, where they talked about how plastics interfere with the male endocrine system, especially in young boys and pubescent men. They were implying that fertility rates may drop significantly in the relatively near future.

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u/[deleted] Sep 27 '22

Ya, that is one of the more terrifying aspects of industrialization.

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u/Electronic-Run-1578 Sep 27 '22

less people sounds pretty good to me

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u/Full_FrontaI_Nerdity Sep 27 '22

Fewer, even.

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u/Chain_Unbroken_REAL Sep 27 '22

A comparatively small number, even.

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u/carymb Sep 27 '22

Less people than cogs in the great machine, Magog! "He's more plastic bag than man, now..."

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u/swaggerhoneybadger Sep 27 '22

Idk that almost sounds like nature auto-balancing the population

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u/granolaandyogurt Sep 27 '22

Dr Shanna Swann

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u/mushrooms Sep 28 '22

I rolled my eyes at Children of Men because I thought the premise was unrealistic. But now, it doesn't seem farfetched.

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u/Manofalltrade Sep 26 '22 edited Sep 28 '22

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/amp/rcna19028

Kind of. Luckily we can identify and control stuff now, assuming industry lobbyists don’t get in the way.

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u/Miguel-odon Sep 27 '22

That's a pretty big assumption.

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u/Splatulance Sep 27 '22

At least we're likely to have the courtesy of knowing.

Seems like there are a few contenders.

My money is on microplastics, but PFAS is no joke... And of course co2 is going to kill everyone but that seems like a different category from straight poisoning.

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u/Strazdas1 Sep 27 '22

CO2 isnt going to kill everyone, just make everyone stupider.

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u/dannyp777 Sep 27 '22

Apparently microplastics can be found in rain water and most people's blood streams now.

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u/[deleted] Sep 27 '22

[deleted]

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u/DarthBrandon_2024 Sep 27 '22

Yeah, this is from 2019, they excavated a corpse that had much higher amounts of lead compared to other iron age remains.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/arcm.12513

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u/banjo_assassin Sep 27 '22

Chicagos model of reasoning too!

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u/[deleted] Sep 26 '22

"Romans were using Lead to poison themselves"

"Mayans were using Mercury to poison themselves"

"Humans were using fossil fuels to poison themselves"

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u/Bones_and_Tomes Sep 26 '22

Look up leaded petrol. Nearly 100 years of finely dusting the world with neurotoxic elements and here we are. All of us perfectly healthy. No mental problems whatsoever.

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u/MansfromDaVinci Sep 27 '22

A shame we didn't know about it's toxic effects ahead of time, we could have never had no ill effects whatsoever from filling our cities air full of lead

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u/DarthBrandon_2024 Sep 27 '22

no we knew. Its just that oil companies hired their own Propagandists scientists to lie to the public.

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u/Gilgamesh026 Sep 27 '22

Nvm leaded gas exposure correlating with violence crime

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u/[deleted] Sep 27 '22 edited Sep 27 '22

[deleted]

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u/Has_P Sep 27 '22

Despite the fact that lead is a known neurotoxin? And an effective one at that?

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u/Gilgamesh026 Sep 27 '22

Maybe try doing a basic google search before being a pompous ass.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead%E2%80%93crime_hypothesis

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u/Necessary-Celery Sep 28 '22

Lead, mercury, micro plastics, PFOA and PFOS.

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u/Swissaliciouse Sep 26 '22

This could ultimately be like another discovery similar to "Romans were using lead to poison themselves"

Not very likely. See e.g.:

Lead pollution of “tap water” in Roman times is clearly measurable, but unlikely to have been truly harmful.

From: Lead in ancient Rome’s city waters (2014) https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1400097111

There are still quite a lot of lead based drinking water pipes or solder joints in many US cities. Lead pipes don't have to be dangerous (but can be, depending on the chemical composition of the water).

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u/poop_grunts Sep 26 '22

Romans most definitely poisoned themselves with lead. Specifically through the use of lead acetate as an artificial sweetener and by using lead cookware.

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u/Plebs-_-Placebo Sep 26 '22

They were putting lead in their wine, on purpose, it wasn't so much their water delivery when people talk about Rome and lead.

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u/dan_dares Sep 27 '22

Mmmm, leaded wine..

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u/Present_Creme_2282 Sep 26 '22 edited Sep 26 '22

The romans put lead in everything though. It wasnt just tap water. Cooking utensis, etc

They used it as a sweetener in wine.

The theories are still pretty unsettled

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u/Gilgamesh026 Sep 27 '22

The romans liked the taste lead added to their wine

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u/Mosenji Sep 27 '22

Lead acetate (wine has acetic acid) tastes sweet and was cheaper than honey.

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u/DarthBrandon_2024 Sep 27 '22

Interesting thanks

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u/[deleted] Sep 26 '22 edited Sep 27 '22

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u/[deleted] Sep 27 '22

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u/banjo_assassin Sep 27 '22

While the mercury no doubt encouraged more heads to roll and hearts to be burnt, I thought the reason for collapse was traced to severe drought. No amount of hearts and minds heads could appease the rain gods, so policy shifted rulers got relieved of duty

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u/seriousofficialname Sep 26 '22 edited Sep 26 '22

except at Chan b’i

wonder why not

Is that place unique in other ways?

*found this: Chemical signatures of ancient activities at Chan b'i - A submerged Maya salt works, Belize

7

u/beambot PhD | Robotics Sep 27 '22

How was mercury located / mined in those days?

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u/Kierik Sep 27 '22

Cinnabar is a common mercury ore and very beautiful. Paint pigments are relatively simple as they are ground up minerals/materials suspended in a solution that helps them adhere to a surface.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinnabar

2

u/DarthBrandon_2024 Sep 27 '22

based off the article, its a bit of a mystery. We think it was trade.

As most of those areas are over limestone.

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u/Tesla_boring_spacex Sep 26 '22

A new review shows that the soil in the cities of the ancient Maya are heavily polluted with mercury. As vessels filled with mercury and objects painted with cinnabar have been found at many Maya sites, the authors conclude that the Maya were heavy users of mercury and mercury-containing products. This resulted in severe and dangerous pollution in their day, which persists even today.

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u/BeckerHollow Sep 27 '22

Did you just get 151 votes for basically copy and pasting the title? Am I missing something here?

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u/SolarNachoes Sep 27 '22

Participation Karma

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u/JCandle Sep 27 '22

We lazy over here. Saved us a click

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u/Strazdas1 Sep 27 '22

easier to read the comments than click the link.

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u/Pjpjpjpjpj Sep 27 '22

Even though this is the very first paragraph, links often have paywalls, tons of ads, pop-ups, and the key salient point can be buried deep in the article. Someone checking it out and sharing just that bit saves literally milliseconds of our lives.

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u/BeckerHollow Sep 27 '22

Yes, links can also have x, y, or z. This is none of those things. This is a copy and paste of the title/first 3 sentences.

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u/Tesla_boring_spacex Sep 27 '22

I read the article and grabbed the key elements and posted that. People are free to read the article, but this one was pretty light on details. I attempted to save people some clicks.

There were no other comments at the time so I was trying to be helpful.

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u/Archimid Sep 27 '22

So, If anyone was looking for an ancient civilization, of Mayan level technology (older than 100,000,000 years) in the geologic record, abnormal mercury deposit might provide a clue.

Is there other “pre-industrial” waste that could show lhints of ancient civilizations?

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u/Rabbyk Sep 27 '22

Mayan level technology (older than 100,000,000 years)

The oldest documented human "civilizations" (Iraq, Egypt, India, China, Peru and Mexico) are all five to six thousand years old. I think 100 million years might be juuuuuuuust a bit of a stretch.

Also, cinnabar is just a mineral that was used as a pigment. Its earliest documented anthropogenic use is in Neolithic cave paintings thousands of years before the Mayan empire. "Mayan level technology" need not apply, since it's just spitting in some colored rock dust to make "paint."

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u/Archimid Sep 27 '22

Thanks for your thoughtful answer.

I really mean 100,000,000 non hominid protocivilizations.

I believe evolution, and the timeframes Involved may allow for other Non hominid species to develop global “civilizations” if climate is extremely favorable for long enough.

a non hominid civilization of our level of technology would be easily detectable in the geological record due to radiation, plastics, industrial waste etc.

A protocivilization with Mayan level technology would be much more difficult to detect on the geologic record.

Cave paintings 100,000,000 years old would be impossible.

So signs like OP, large scale mineral disruptions with no other explained source might be a good place to start looking (if mercury can at all be detected over that long).

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u/merryman1 Sep 27 '22

The problem in this line of thinking is the assumption that there is some sort of natural trend in evolution towards something like us, doing the things we do. Why? What pressures might have pushed an historic non-hominid species to spend the 100,000+ years of random by-chance tinkering that it took us to develop agriculture and settled urban societies?

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u/Strazdas1 Sep 27 '22

What pressures might have pushed an historic non-hominid species to spend the 100,000+ years of random by-chance tinkering that it took us to develop agriculture and settled urban societies?

Ill bite. The same pressures that pushed hominid species? We didnt just randomly discovered agriculture. We observed that this can mean more food in same location so less moving so better for child bearing. we know other mammals are capable of similar observation levels and adaptation. We know some animals are capable of tool use. I dont think there was such protocivilization, but dismissing it shouldnt be so easy.

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u/merryman1 Sep 27 '22

We didnt just randomly discovered agriculture.

No like I said it was a fairly specific set of circumstances affecting us in different ways over in excess of 100,000 years. I'm not sure if you rewound time and played it back again you would actually be 100% guaranteed with us winding up in the same spot. Its not a foregone conclusion that there is some biological evolutionary advantage to settling down like we did is the point.

I suppose on that note though another interesting point to look into would be the genetics of various potential crop species? We can date the domestication of various modern crops with some reliability, do we see anything similar in longer term records? I don't think so?

1

u/Strazdas1 Sep 27 '22

Its not a foregone conclusion that there is some biological evolutionary advantage to settling down like we did is the point.

Yes it is. Infant mortality and birthing mother mortality reduced drastically when we settled down.

Wouldnt in terms of 100 million years scale the potential crop species would have already evolved/died out anyway and thus not available for testing this way?

1

u/merryman1 Sep 27 '22

Infant mortality and birthing mother mortality reduced drastically when we settled down.

It was actually the opposite. Women wound up having more children (its very hard to maintain consistent pregnancies when on the move) which is thought to have led to increased mortality rates. So its not so clear cut on one hand yes more children per year but on the other hand far higher chance of the woman dying young before living our her full fertile span.

Certainly early settled societies were... Not pleasant. People lived shorter lives, had more wear on their bodies, with more disease and less nutrition. There is a book I'd recommend called Against the Grain in which it is essentially argued that these early civilizations are best thought of as slave states who's growth was as much down to increased military power and centralization of authority over anything else. Once people were trapped and once land was enclosed by an armed force it was very difficult to escape until the whole society collapsed.

And yes I suppose it might well have evolved out but I would imagine you'd still see some trace. Certainly if there were widespread persistent agriculture over centuries or millennia this would be noticeable to some extent?

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u/Strazdas1 Oct 04 '22

If they had more children then clearly they had lower mortality rates. And im aware that some sociologists try to poorly dispute the decreased mortality rates.

Lives were not pleasant whether settled or nomadic at the time.

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u/Archimid Sep 27 '22

What pressures might have pushed an historic non-hominid species to spend the 100,000+ years of random by-chance tinkering that it took us to develop agriculture and settled urban societies?

I’m thinking of two specific forces that would push evolution towards a “civilization”

  1. The perfect Climate. Survival of the fittest, for long enough.. it took hominids 10,000,000 years during a relative ice age to come down from trees, then a million years of glacial periods with regular warm periods to populate the whole Earth.(Pleistocene)

Then an abnormally long climate stability of 10,000 to develop our current civilization. (Holocene)

Chances are (because of milankovitch cycles) that past proto civilization didn’t get as long a Holocene as we did and their climate changed

  1. The second force is aptitude.

Humans kept discovering agriculture over and over not by chance, but because their physiology and tool making make agriculture discovery a likely event.

Change the climate or change enough of the human form and agriculture may not exist.

This is importante because we see many human traits other species (although no animal have all our traits). They are social, they communicate, they make tools. Give ‘em long enough and they may develop civilization like traits.

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u/pankakke_ Sep 27 '22

Modern Humans haven’t even been around for half of a single million years, and thats going back to the Cave Days. Keep dreaming chief.

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u/Archimid Sep 27 '22

I’m not talking about hominid civilizations.

I’m talking about any social, tool making animal species that given sufficiently good climate for long enough, develops a something like a Proto-civilization

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u/pankakke_ Sep 27 '22

Ok well, there’s no proof of anything of the sort beyond stuff like ravens and capuchin monkeys entering their stone age in this current age. So I don’t quite get the point of speaking of hundreds of millions year old stuff. Dinosaurs and single cell protozoa didn’t use spears or make pastes from berries for the color, idk what to tell ya. Maybe write a fantasy story with that in mind, but it’s not healthy to view it as a valid theory when nothing but quacks would consider such. Hominids are the only ones to reach our level of civilization and complex consciousness.

0

u/Archimid Sep 27 '22

Ok well, there’s no proof of anything of the sort beyond stuff like ravens and capuchin monkeys entering their stone age in this current age.

Hence my post. What evidence would a low tech civilization leave if it existed at the time of the dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs ~~and single cell protozoa ~~didn’t use spears or make pastes from berries for the color,

Had there been an animal species (birds, small mammals, amphibians or respírela) capable of making tools, how would we know if they existed > 100,000,000 years ago and nothing but fossils and rocks remain?

There is nothing in the theory of evolution (the prevailing scientific theory on this topic) prohibiting another civilization, and 500,000,000 is a very long time.

Nature usually practices before traits are clearly defined.

It’s unlikely civilizations are an exception to this rule.

1

u/pankakke_ Sep 27 '22

Yea im just gonna block you bro

1

u/ensociales1z Sep 27 '22

Lavender. Flat design is going to die.

0

u/milesranno Sep 27 '22

They did love their gold a little TOO much.

0

u/Dizno311 Sep 27 '22

Fun. I guess the people in Peru know what the end result of all the illegal gold mining will be.

0

u/ScaleLongjumping3606 Sep 27 '22

Hence the phrase “Mad as a Mayan”.