• January 31, 2023

Mummified Parrots Reveal ‘Sophisticated’ Trade In Ancient South American Desert : NPR

The researchers identified a blue-fronted mummified parrot that was recovered from an old cemetery in the Atacama Desert. Calogero Santoro, Universidad de Tarapacá and José Capriles, Penn State, hide the caption

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Calogero Santoro, University of Tarapacá and José Capriles, Penn State

The researchers identified a blue-fronted mummified parrot that was recovered from an old cemetery in the Atacama Desert.

Calogero Santoro, University of Tarapacá and José Capriles, Penn State

A recent study of mummified parrots found in a high-altitude desert region in South America suggests to researchers that humans made arduous efforts as early as 900 years ago to transport the precious birds over long and complex trade routes.

The remains of more than two dozen scarlet macaws and Amazon parrots were found in five different locations in the arid Atacama Desert in northern Chile – far from their home in the Amazon rainforest.

How did you get there?

A research team that published its results in the journal this week Procedure of the National Academy of SciencesI believe they have the answer: In the period between 1100 and 1450, the Atacama communities carried long caravans of precious llamas to carry the precious cargo. They hiked more than 500 miles on a route from the Amazon rainforest through the rugged Andes Mountains. in the rough desert terrain.

“That trip probably took several weeks, if not months,” said José Capriles, lead author of the study, told NPR. “That required a lot of sophisticated knowledge in order to catch the birds, keep them in captivity and then transport them over these high mountains.”

Like today’s rare gems or high-end cars, the colorful feathers of exotic birds signaled wealth and power in pre-Columbian America. They adorned the headdresses of the elites and even had a spiritual meaning.

Capriles, an archaeologist and assistant professor of anthropology at Penn State University, said the birds were so valuable to society at the time that they were raised and cared for for their feathers, and sometimes mummified.

“In a place with so limited resources and colors, these feathers were incredibly important,” he said. “It was a cultural, social, ritual phenomenon. These springs really cross these different ranges of values.”

Using methods such as radioactive carbon dating and ancient DNA analysis to study 27 intact and partial remains, the researchers identified at least six different species.

As the excavated remains indicate, the birds, which were essentially viewed as living feather factories, were often mistreated.

“We all saw whole chickens in the supermarket. They only have a few feathers left, if you will,” said Capriles.

He and his colleagues also found that the birds were nutritionally disadvantaged. They were given the same nitrogen-rich feed that their captors lived on, a corn-based diet that was fertilized with sea bird manure.

Studying these trade routes was also a personal journey for Capriles.

His mother, Eliana Flores Bedregal, an ornithologist and co-author of the study, died of cancer before she could finish the job. Capriles hopes that wherever she is, she will be proud of what they have achieved.

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