In 1962 Peru Banned The Scientists Who Predicted Their Mountains Would Collapse

Grace Higgins | May 12th, 2019

Yungay is a town in the Ancash Region of north-central Peru in South America. It is located high up in the mountains at an elevation of 2,500 meters, in the Callejon de Huaylas around 450 km north of Lima which is the country’s capital.

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East of this small town lies the huge mountain ridges of the Cordillera Blanca, which are nearly always snow covered. This means Peru’s highest mountain top, the Huascaran, is just 15 km east of Yungay. So as you can imagine this mountain towered above the small town and was one of their cultural references. Yungay is actually the capital of the Yungay Province so though it is a small town does hold around 10,000 inhabitants.

Though the town is small it holds significant historical value being the place was the Chilean-Peruvian army defeated the Peru-Bolivian army during the War of the Confederation. This was the Battle of Yungay in 1839, which ended the short-lived Confederacy. And another cultural significance is that in 1969 a US archeologist Thomas Lynch discovered evidence in a cave that was dated from 10,000 BC. And the artifacts he found all pointed towards agriculture, which means that Yungay is marked as a place of one of the great origins of agriculture in America.

But the scientist we are more interested in are also American, in 1962, David Bernays and Charles Sawyer were studying the area. They reported a massive vertical slab of rock that was being undermined by a glacier, they advised this slab of rock could fall and therefore obliterate the whole of Yungay. The two scientists predicted the mountain would collapse and even published a report about it in the Espreso newspaper – but the Peruvian government would not listen to ordering them to retract their findings or face prison. The two scientists, therefore, fled the country and citizens were told never to speak of this impending disaster.

Eight years later, the mountain collapsed along with the Ancash earthquake which caused the prediction to come true. In 1970, the town was buried and over 20,000 people were killed. The government forbid the excavation of the area and declared it a national cemetery.

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