Amazonian Mummified Parrots Discovered in the Atacama Desert

Amazonian Mummified Parrots Discovered in the Atacama Desert

Researchers have made the curious discovery of mummified parrots in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. Between 1000 and 1460 BC, parrots and macaws were transported over 300 miles to one of the driest places on Earth. One of the most remarkable questions that co-author Jośe M. Capriles and his team posed was how they transported these birds without killing them. But also, why were these parrots mummified in this way?

Unlikely Animal Transportation: The Journey to Mummified Parrots

When the parrots were captured and brought to the Atacama, insane terrain and weather posed massive issues. The birds had to travel across the Andes, with some of the peaks reaching over 10,000 feet high. Natives to the Amazon, the birds would not have been used to such cold weather.

  • Birds in the Ancient World: Messengers of Omens and Auguries
  • Strange Discovery Made in Mexican Cave, Including Mummified Macaw, Baby and Adult Remains

One of the most pressing questions was how did llamas carry them? There were no horses during this time (pre-Inca), and llamas are not usually used as packing animals. Researcher Jośe M. Capriles was left puzzled. “Llamas are not the best pack animals,” wrote the researcher in the science journal PNAS. “The fact that llama caravans brought macaws and parrots across the Andes and across the desert to this oasis is amazing.”

For birds native to humidity and heat, its remarkable that these birds stayed alive, enduring travel over 300 miles (482 km) and through cold temperatures. Their survival goes to show the importance and levels of care that went into making sure these precious birds remained alive.

The discovery of mummified parrots has let researchers down an unexpected path. In the image a live scarlet macaw from the Bolivian Amazonia. (Carlos Capriles Farfán)

Life in the Desert for an Amazonian Parrot

After the harsh trip through the Andes, the birds were kept as pets but still lived a tough life. Wealthier society members brought the birds to produce feathers, and they would regularly be plucked out and used for different high-status ceremonies and burials. “They were kept to produce feathers and their feathers were plucked out as soon as they grew in,” explained Capriles in CNN.

With zooarchaeological analysis, radiocarbon dating, and DNA testing, the researchers determined many factors, including the bird’s diet, their species, and natural habitation in the hope, according to the PSU report, of determining how they arrived in the Atacama in the first place.

Researchers determined that the birds lived with humans based on their diet which showed that humans and the parrots were eating the same foods. “They were eating the same foods that people were eating enriched with the nitrogen from maize fertilized with marine bird manure,” explained Capriles explained to PSU.

The birds' food and diet study gave researchers insight into if the birds were alive or had died before their arrival in the Atacama. The rich marine fertilized soil that maize grew in was the critical factor in the question. So, where they alive upon arrival?

A mummified scarlet macaw parrot recovered from Pica 8 in northern Chile. (Calogero Santoro & José Capriles / Universidad de Tarapacá & Penn State )

Unusual Mummified Parrots and Their Importance

When the birds died, their bodies were mummified in unusual ways, their mouths were left open, and in some birds, their tongues were also sticking out. While some bird mummies had their wings stretched out to demonstrate their “last flight.” "We have absolutely no idea why they were mummified like this,” commented Capriles in relation to the manner in which the birds had been mummified.

  • Sun and Earth Aligned: Ancient Andean Calendar is Illuminated on the Atacama Desert
  • Study of Atacama Skeleton Slammed as Scientifically Flawed and Unethical

The majority of the mummified parrots were found at Pica 8, an archeology site outside the community - which still exists today. Many birds were found near human burial sites, which helped researchers understand the purpose of the birds and their mummification with the limited number of birds to study, that is around 27 complete or partial birds from five different species.

It’s clear that these mummified parrots lived a rather unhappy life: being taken away from their homes and living as a pet while having their feathers plucked out. But, due to the care and preservation that went into preparing these mummified animals , researchers and scientists can now study and understand more about burial and ritual practices over 900 years later.

The archaeologist had found parrot and macaw feathers at burials before, but when discovering leather boxes containing mummified birds, it was a new chapter in learning about the Atacama. "They had to be transported across huge steppes, cold weather and difficult terrain to the Atacama. And they had to be kept alive," explained Capriles to PSU. With further studies and archaeological excavations at these sites, researchers hope to learn more about the mummified parrots and their journey from the Amazon to the Atacama desert.


Mummified Parrots Point to Trade in the Ancient Atacama Desert

Parrot mummies reveal that between 1100 and 1450 CE, trade from other areas brought parrots and macaws to oasis communities.

“Feathers are valued across the Americas and we see them in high-status burials,” said José M. Capriles, assistant professor of anthropology, Penn State. “We don’t know how the feathers got there, the routes they took or the network.”

Parrots and macaws are not native to the Atacama, which is in northern Chile and is the driest desert in the world, but archaeologists have found feathers in burial context and preserved in leather boxes or other protective material, and they have also found mummified birds — parrots and macaws — at archaeological sites.

“The fact that live birds made their way across the more-than-10,000-foot-high Andes is amazing,” said Capriles. “They had to be transported across huge steppes, cold weather and difficult terrain to the Atacama. And they had to be kept alive.”

Capriles, an archaeologist, grew up around parrots and macaws because his father was a wildlife manager and his mother, Eliana Flores Bedregal, was a Bolivian ornithologist at the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural in La Paz until her death in 2017.

While a postdoctoral fellow in Chile, Capriles investigated the trade and transport of goods like coca, shell, metals, feathers and animals around Bolivia, Peru and Chile.

“Calogero Santoro, professor of anthropology at Universidad de Tarapacá, mentioned the birds to my mother when she came to visit and suggested we study them,” said Capriles. “Our idea was to say something about these parrots, where they were coming from and what species were represented. My mother is a coauthor on this paper.”

Most parrot and macaw remains, whether mummified or not, reside in museums. The team visited collections around northern Chile for nearly three years looking at a wide range of what had been found.

“Once we started working on this, we found so much material about macaws and parrots,” said Capriles. “Columbus took parrots back to Europe and the historical importance of macaw feathers for pre-Columbian societies was ubiquitous.”

Most of the bird remains the researchers found date to between 1000 and 1460 CE, beginning at the end of the Tiwanaku empire and just before the Inca came through the area. According to Capriles, it was a time of warfare, but also a great time for commerce, with frequent llama caravans moving about.

The researchers studied 27 complete or partial remains of scarlet macaws and Amazon parrots from five oasis sites in the Atacama. They report their results today (Mar. 29) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using zooarchaeological analysis, isotopic dietary reconstruction, radiocarbon dating and ancient DNA testing, the research catalogued scarlet macaws and at least five other parrot species that were transported from over 300 miles away in the eastern Amazon. The team mapped the distinct natural habitation ranges of scarlet macaws, blue and yellow macaws and the various parrots to try to determine how they traveled to the Atacama.

The researchers also found that the birds were eating the same diet as the agriculturalists who owned them.

“What we consider acceptable interactions with animals under our care was very different back then,” said Capriles. “Some of these birds did not live a happy life. They were kept to produce feathers and their feathers were plucked out as soon as they grew in.”

Perhaps more unusual than the import of parrots and macaws and their usefulness in feather production was their treatment after death. Many of the parrots were found mummified with their mouths wide open and their tongues sticking out. Others had their wings spread wide in permanent flight.

“We have absolutely no idea why they were mummified like this,” said Capriles. “They seem to be eviscerated through their cloaca (a common excretory and reproductive opening), which helped to preserve them. Many times, they were wrapped in textiles or bags.”

Unfortunately, many of the birds were salvage finds — acquired outside of formal archaeological projects — so some types of data are missing, but the birds are typically associated with human burials.

The majority of the mummies were found at Pica 8, a site near an oasis community that still exists today as a locus of goods transport. Pica 8 had agriculture during the time the birds lived there and is currently the source of prized lemons.

“We know that the birds were living there,” said Capriles. “That they were eating the same foods that people were eating enriched with the nitrogen from maize fertilized with marine bird manure. Llamas are not the best pack animals, because they aren’t that strong. The fact that llama caravans brought macaws and parrots across the Andes and across the desert to this oasis is amazing.”

Header Image Credit : Calogero Santoro, Universidad de Tarapacá, and José Capriles, Penn State


Mummified Parrots Reveal 'Sophisticated' Trade In Ancient South American Desert

A recent study of mummified parrots found in a high-altitude desert region in South America suggests to researchers that, as far back as some 900 years ago, people went to arduous lengths to transport the prized birds across vast and complex trade routes.

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

So how did they get there?

A team of researchers, which published their findings this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, think they have the answer: During a period between the years 1100 and 1450, Atacama communities used long caravans of llamas to transport the precious cargo, trekking more than 500 miles on a route from the Amazon rainforest, through the craggy Andes mountain range, to the harsh desert terrain.

"This trip likely lasted several weeks if not months," José Capriles, a lead author of the study, told NPR. "That required quite a bit of sophisticated knowledge, being able to trap the birds, keep them in captivity and then transport them across these high mountains."

Like rare gems or high-end cars today, the colorful feathers of exotic birds signaled wealth and power in the pre-Columbian Americas. They adorned the headdresses of elites and even carried spiritual significance.

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 nurtured for their feathers and, sometimes, mummified.

"In a place with so limited resources and so limited color, these feathers were incredibly important," he said. "It was a cultural, social, ritual phenomenon. These feathers really crosscut these different spheres of value."

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

As evidenced by the unearthed remains, the birds, seen essentially as living feather factories, were often treated poorly.

"We've all seen whole chickens on the supermarket. These just have a few more feathers, if you will," said Capriles.

He and his colleagues also found that the birds were nutritionally deprived. They were fed the same nitrogen-rich food that their captors subsisted on, a maize-based diet that was fertilized with marine bird manure.

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

His mother, Eliana Flores Bedregal, who was an ornithologist and co-author of the study, died of cancer before they could finish the work. Capriles hopes that wherever she is, she feels proud of what they achieved.


Mummified Birds in The Atacama Desert Reveal a Dark Side of History

The more we look into the harsh extremes of Chile’s Atacama Desert, the more we find. Phenomena both mystifying and wonderful, occasionally bordering on alien.

But in this incredibly dry place, it wasn’t just the climate that was unforgiving. Its ancient human inhabitants, making do in a parched place not best suited to hosting them, traded in whatever they could get their hands on.

Sometimes, it seems, that was the brilliant feathers of colorful birds brought unceremoniously to a desert they didn’t belong to, but were destined to be buried within.

“What we consider acceptable interactions with animals under our care was very different back then,” says anthropological archaeologist Jose Capriles from Pennsylvania State University.

“Some of these birds did not live a happy life. They were kept to produce feathers and their feathers were plucked out as soon as they grew in.”

Mummified scarlet macaw. (Calogero Santoro/José Capriles)

Capriles is something of a specialist when it comes to discovering the exotic oddities of pre-Columbian American culture.

This time, his mother – Eliana Flores Bedregal, an ornithologist by profession – came along for the ride, co-authoring a new study examining the life and death of over two-dozen mummified and partially mummified parrots found within the Atacama Desert.

In total, at least six species of parrots originally recovered from five of the desert’s archaeological sites were studied in the research, with the remains variously dating from between 1100 to 1450 CE.

“The feathers of tropical birds were one of the most significant symbols of economic, social, and sacred status in the pre-Columbian Americas,” the authors write in their study.

“In the Andes, finely produced clothing and textiles containing multicolored feathers of tropical parrots materialized power, prestige, and distinction and were particularly prized by political and religious elites.”

Behind the folds of this marvelous drapery, the colorful birds likely lived a miserable existence in captivity, far from the Amazonian rainforests that were once their home.

(Capriles et al., PNAS, 2021)

Sometimes, the feathers were plucked elsewhere and imported into the Andes in special containers, but the remains of the 27 parrots and macaws analyzed here suggest many other birds were specifically brought to the desert for their vibrant plumage.

The feather trade in the region dates back much longer than this, at least to the Chinchorro mummies of around 5050 BCE. Thousands of years later, feathers were still a cherished feature used in garments, hats, headdresses, and other ornaments.

Most of the mummified birds examined in the new study were originally recovered from an archaeological site called Pica 8, located close to an oasis community within the Atacama Desert that still exists today.

Once upon a time, though, the people here buried their birds alongside themselves.


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ancient Egyptians mummified cats, dogs, ibises and other animals, but closer to home in the South American Atacama desert, parrot mummies reveal that between 1100 and 1450 CE, trade from other areas brought parrots and macaws to oasis communities, according to an international and interdisciplinary team.

"Feathers are valued across the Americas and we see them in high-status burials," said José M. Capriles, assistant professor of anthropology, Penn State. "We don't know how the feathers got there, the routes they took or the network."

Parrots and macaws are not native to the Atacama, which is in northern Chile and is the driest desert in the world, but archaeologists have found feathers in burial context and preserved in leather boxes or other protective material, and they have also found mummified birds — parrots and macaws — at archaeological sites.

"The fact that live birds made their way across the more-than-10,000-foot-high Andes is amazing," said Capriles. "They had to be transported across huge steppes, cold weather and difficult terrain to the Atacama. And they had to be kept alive."

Detail of mummified blue-fronted amazon recovered from Pica 8 cemetery in the Atacama Desert.

Capriles, an archaeologist, grew up around parrots and macaws because his father was a wildlife manager and his mother, Eliana Flores Bedregal, was a Bolivian ornithologist at the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural in La Paz until her death in 2017.

While a postdoctoral fellow in Chile, Capriles investigated the trade and transport of goods like coca, shell, metals, feathers and animals around Bolivia, Peru and Chile.

"Calogero Santoro, professor of anthropology at Universidad de Tarapacá, mentioned the birds to my mother when she came to visit and suggested we study them," said Capriles. "Our idea was to say something about these parrots, where they were coming from and what species were represented. My mother is a coauthor on this paper."

Most parrot and macaw remains, whether mummified or not, reside in museums. The team visited collections around northern Chile for nearly three years looking at a wide range of what had been found.

Live scarlet macaw from the Bolivian Amazonia.

"Once we started working on this, we found so much material about macaws and parrots," said Capriles. "Columbus took parrots back to Europe and the historical importance of macaw feathers for pre-Columbian societies was ubiquitous."

Most of the bird remains the researchers found date to between 1000 and 1460 CE, beginning at the end of the Tiwanaku empire and just before the Inca came through the area. According to Capriles, it was a time of warfare, but also a great time for commerce, with frequent llama caravans moving about.

The researchers studied 27 complete or partial remains of scarlet macaws and Amazon parrots from five oasis sites in the Atacama. They report their results today (Mar. 29) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using zooarchaeological analysis, isotopic dietary reconstruction, radiocarbon dating and ancient DNA testing, the research catalogued scarlet macaws and at least five other parrot species that were transported from over 300 miles away in the eastern Amazon. The team mapped the distinct natural habitation ranges of scarlet macaws, blue and yellow macaws and the various parrots to try to determine how they traveled to the Atacama.

The researchers also found that the birds were eating the same diet as the agriculturalists who owned them.

"What we consider acceptable interactions with animals under our care was very different back then," said Capriles. "Some of these birds did not live a happy life. They were kept to produce feathers and their feathers were plucked out as soon as they grew in."

Perhaps more unusual than the import of parrots and macaws and their usefulness in feather production was their treatment after death. Many of the parrots were found mummified with their mouths wide open and their tongues sticking out. Others had their wings spread wide in permanent flight.

"We have absolutely no idea why they were mummified like this," said Capriles. "They seem to be eviscerated through their cloaca (a common excretory and reproductive opening), which helped to preserve them. Many times, they were wrapped in textiles or bags."

Unfortunately, many of the birds were salvage finds — acquired outside of formal archaeological projects — so some types of data are missing, but the birds are typically associated with human burials.

The majority of the mummies were found at Pica 8, a site near an oasis community that still exists today as a locus of goods transport. Pica 8 had agriculture during the time the birds lived there and is currently the source of prized lemons.

"We know that the birds were living there," said Capriles. "That they were eating the same foods that people were eating enriched with the nitrogen from maize fertilized with marine bird manure. Llamas are not the best pack animals, because they aren't that strong. The fact that llama caravans brought macaws and parrots across the Andes and across the desert to this oasis is amazing."

Also working on this project were Calogero M. Santoro, professor of anthropology, and Francisco Rothhammer, professor of population genetics, Instituto de Alta Investigatión, Universidad de Tarapacá, Arica, Chile Richard J. George, postdoctoral researcher in anthropology and Douglas J. Kennett, professor of anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara and Logan Kisler, curator of archaeobotany and archaeogenomics, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

The Chilean National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development, FONDECYT Universidad de Tarapacá University of California, Santa Barbara and Penn State supported this work.


Mummified birds in the Atacama Desert reveal a dark side of history

The more you explore the harsh limits of Chile’s Atacama Desert, the more you will find out.Both phenomena Mysterious And You look amazing, Sometimes borders alien..

But in this incredibly dry place, climate wasn’t the only thing that was unforgiving. The ancient human inhabitants did it in a dry place that wasn’t the most suitable for hosting them, and traded in whatever they could get.

From time to time, it seems to have been the bright wings of colorful birds that were inadvertently carried to the desert to which they did not belong, but were destined to be buried in it.

“What we think of acceptable interactions with the animals we care for was very different at the time.” To tell Jose Caprice, an anthropological archaeologist at Pennsylvania State University.

“Some of these birds did not live a happy life. They continued to produce feathers and their feathers were pulled out as soon as they grew.”

Macaw mummification. (Calogero Santoro / José Capriles)

Caprice Like a specialist When it comes to discovering Exotic strangeness Of American culture before Columbus.

This time, his mother – the occupational ornithologist Eliana Flores Bedregal – came in for a ride, New research Investigate the life and death of more than two dozen mummified and partially mummified parrots found in the Atacama Desert.

In total, at least six species of parrots first recovered from five desert sites were studied in the study, and the sites were of various ages from 1100 to 1450.

“Tropical bird feathers were one of the most important symbols of economic, social and sacred status in the pre-Columbian Americas,” the authors say. Write in their study..

“In the Andes, finely crafted clothing and textiles, including the colorful feathers of tropical parrots, embody power, fame, and distinction, and were especially appreciated by the political and religious elite.”

Behind the folds of this magnificent curtain, the colorful birds seem to have lived in captivity and misery, far away from their former home in the Amazon rainforest.

(Capriles et al., PNAS, 2021)

Occasionally, feathers were picked elsewhere and imported into the Andes in special containers, but the 27 parrot and macaw debris analyzed here are due to the vibrant feathers of many other birds. It suggests that it was specially transported to the desert.

The feather trade in the region has at least a much longer history. Chinchoro Mummy Thousands of years after about 5050 BC, feathers were still an important feature used in clothing, hats, headdresses, and other ornaments.

Most of the mummified birds examined in the new study were originally recovered from a site called Pika 8 near the oasis community in the still-existing Atacama Desert.

But once upon a time, the people here buried their birds with them.

“Most birds were placed in direct association with human burial.” Researchers are writingNote that the parrot’s tail was often removed.

Occasionally, the animal was placed in an elaborate position with its beak open and its tongue sticking out. Perhaps it is tied to the ritual practice of calling parrots. Ability to imitate human utterances.. Others have spread their wings as if they were soaring forever in the afterlife.

In life on Earth, many seem to have broken wings and tied their feet, but researchers also found that, in addition to the persistent fracture healing process, with evidence of beak and nail clipping. Observing that attention was paid to some animals by Aum.

“We have no idea why they were mummified this way.” Capriles says.. “They appear to be internal organs through their cloaca (general excretory and reproductive openings) that helped preserve them. Often they were wrapped in fabric or bag. . “

What is certain is that it was not easy to take these grounded birds to the desert. Researchers believe that traveling from the Amazon is likely to take months when transported in a llama caravan, but some birds may have been sourced from areas close to the desert.

Once there, they are kept as precious pets, cherished by their wonderful palette of feathers, and their attractive shades are surely stolen.

Survey results will be reported at PNAS..

Mummified birds in the Atacama Desert reveal a dark side of history

3/mO4Dv3KAGQ0/mummified-birds-in-earth-s-harshest-desert-tell-a-strange-story-of-pain-and-plucking Mummified birds in the Atacama Desert reveal a dark side of history


Parrot mummies hint at ancient trade in Atacama Desert

You are free to share this article under the Attribution 4.0 International license.

Parrot mummies found in the South American Atacama Desert reveal that, between 1100 and 1450 CE, traders brought parrots and macaws to oasis communities, researchers report.

“Feathers are valued across the Americas and we see them in high-status burials,” says José M. Capriles, assistant professor of anthropology at Penn State. “We don’t know how the feathers got there, the routes they took, or the network.”

Parrots and macaws are not native to the Atacama in northern Chile—the driest desert in the world—but archaeologists have found feathers in burial context and preserved in leather boxes or other protective material. They’ve also found mummified birds—parrots and macaws—at archaeological sites.

“The fact that live birds made their way across the more-than-10,000-foot-high Andes is amazing,” says Capriles. “They had to be transported across huge steppes, cold weather, and difficult terrain to the Atacama. And they had to be kept alive.”

Mummified scarlet macaw recovered from Pica 8 in northern Chile. (Credit: Calogero Santoro/Universidad de Tarapacá José Capriles/Penn State)

Capriles grew up around parrots and macaws because his father was a wildlife manager and his mother, Eliana Flores Bedregal, was a Bolivian ornithologist at the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural in La Paz until her death in 2017.

While a postdoctoral fellow in Chile, Capriles investigated the trade and transport of goods like coca, shell, metals, feathers, and animals around Bolivia, Peru, and Chile.

“Calogero Santoro, professor of anthropology at Universidad de Tarapacá, mentioned the birds to my mother when she came to visit and suggested we study them,” says Capriles. “Our idea was to say something about these parrots, where they were coming from and what species were represented. My mother is a coauthor on this paper.”

Ancient bird remains

Most parrot and macaw remains, whether mummified or not, reside in museums. The team visited collections around northern Chile for nearly three years looking at a wide range of what had been found.

“Once we started working on this, we found so much material about macaws and parrots,” says Capriles. “Columbus took parrots back to Europe and the historical importance of macaw feathers for pre-Columbian societies was ubiquitous.”

“Some of these birds did not live a happy life. They were kept to produce feathers and their feathers were plucked out as soon as they grew in.”

Most of the bird remains the researchers found date to between 1000 and 1460 CE, beginning at the end of the Tiwanaku empire and just before the Inca came through the area. Capriles says it was a time of warfare, but also a great time for commerce, with frequent llama caravans moving about.

The researchers studied 27 complete or partial remains of scarlet macaws and Amazon parrots from five oasis sites in the Atacama. Their findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using zooarchaeological analysis, isotopic dietary reconstruction, radiocarbon dating, and ancient DNA testing, the researchers cataloged scarlet macaws and at least five other parrot species transported from over 300 miles away in the eastern Amazon. The team mapped the distinct natural habitation ranges of scarlet macaws, blue and yellow macaws, and the various parrots to try to determine how they traveled to the Atacama.

Why were parrots mummified?

The parrot mummies also show that birds ate the same diet as the agriculturalists who owned them.

“What we consider acceptable interactions with animals under our care was very different back then,” says Capriles. “Some of these birds did not live a happy life. They were kept to produce feathers and their feathers were plucked out as soon as they grew in.”

Perhaps more unusual than the import of parrots and macaws and their usefulness in feather production was their treatment after death. Many of the parrots were found mummified with their mouths wide open and their tongues sticking out. Others had their wings spread wide in permanent flight.

“We have absolutely no idea why they were mummified like this,” says Capriles. “They seem to be eviscerated through their cloaca (a common excretory and reproductive opening), which helped to preserve them. Many times, they were wrapped in textiles or bags.”

Unfortunately, many of the birds were salvage finds—acquired outside of formal archaeological projects—so some types of data are missing, but the birds are typically associated with human burials.

The majority of the mummies were found at Pica 8, a site near an oasis community that still exists today as a locus of goods transport. Pica 8 had agriculture during the time the birds lived there and is currently the source of prized lemons.

“We know that the birds were living there,” says Capriles. “That they were eating the same foods that people were eating enriched with the nitrogen from maize fertilized with marine bird manure. Llamas are not the best pack animals, because they aren’t that strong. The fact that llama caravans brought macaws and parrots across the Andes and across the desert to this oasis is amazing.”

Additional coauthors are from the University of California, Santa Barbara the Universidad de Tarapacá, Arica in Chile and the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

The Chilean National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development, FONDECYT Universidad de Tarapacá University of California, Santa Barbara and Penn State supported the work.


Mummified birds in the Atacama desert reveal a dark side of history

The more we look into the harsh extremes of Chile’s Atacama Desert, the more we find. Phenomena both mystifying and wonderful, occasionally bordering on alien.

But in this incredibly dry place, it wasn’t just the climate that was unforgiving. Its ancient human inhabitants, making do in a parched place not best suited to hosting them, traded in whatever they could get their hands on.

Sometimes, it seems, that was the brilliant feathers of colorful birds brought unceremoniously to a desert they didn’t belong to, but were destined to be buried within.

“What we consider acceptable interactions with animals under our care was very different back then,” says anthropological archaeologist Jose Capriles from Pennsylvania State University.

“Some of these birds did not live a happy life. They were kept to produce feathers and their feathers were plucked out as soon as they grew in.”

Mummified scarlet macaw. (Calogero Santoro/José Capriles)

Capriles is something of a specialist when it comes to discovering the exotic oddities of pre-Columbian American culture.

This time, his mother – Eliana Flores Bedregal, an ornithologist by profession – came along for the ride, co-authoring a new study examining the life and death of over two-dozen mummified and partially mummified parrots found within the Atacama Desert.

In total, at least six species of parrots originally recovered from five of the desert’s archaeological sites were studied in the research, with the remains variously dating from between 1100 to 1450 CE.

“The feathers of tropical birds were one of the most significant symbols of economic, social, and sacred status in the pre-Columbian Americas,” the authors write in their study.

“In the Andes, finely produced clothing and textiles containing multicolored feathers of tropical parrots materialized power, prestige, and distinction and were particularly prized by political and religious elites.”

Behind the folds of this marvelous drapery, the colorful birds likely lived a miserable existence in captivity, far from the Amazonian rainforests that were once their home.

(Capriles et al., PNAS, 2021)

Sometimes, the feathers were plucked elsewhere and imported into the Andes in special containers, but the remains of the 27 parrots and macaws analyzed here suggest many other birds were specifically brought to the desert for their vibrant plumage.

The feather trade in the region dates back much longer than this, at least to the Chinchorro mummies of around 5050 BCE. Thousands of years later, feathers were still a cherished feature used in garments, hats, headdresses, and other ornaments.

Most of the mummified birds examined in the new study were originally recovered from an archaeological site called Pica 8, located close to an oasis community within the Atacama Desert that still exists today.

Once upon a time, though, the people here buried their birds alongside themselves.

“Most birds were placed in direct association with human burials,” the researchers write, noting the parrots’ tails were often removed.

Sometimes the animals were positioned in elaborate stances, with beaks opened and tongues sticking out, perhaps tied to ritualistic practices invoking parrots’ ability to mimic human speech. Others had their wings spread, as if to forever soar in the afterlife.

During their life on Earth, it seems many had their wings broken and their feet strapped, although the researchers also observe care was taken with some of the animals, with evidence of clipping of their beaks and claws, in addition to healing processes for fractures sustained by the parrots.

“We have absolutely no idea why they were mummified like this,” Capriles says. “They seem to be eviscerated through their cloaca (a common excretory and reproductive opening), which helped to preserve them. Many times, they were wrapped in textiles or bags.”

What is certain is that it can’t have been easy to get these grounded birds to the desert. Transported by llama caravans, it’s likely the journey from the Amazon would have taken months, the researchers think, although it’s possible some of the birds were procured from regions closer to the desert.

Once there, they were held as valuable pets, treasured for their wondrous palette of feathers, with each enticing shade certain to be stolen.


Abstract

The feathers of tropical birds were one of the most significant symbols of economic, social, and sacred status in the pre-Columbian Americas. In the Andes, finely produced clothing and textiles containing multicolored feathers of tropical parrots materialized power, prestige, and distinction and were particularly prized by political and religious elites. Here we report 27 complete or partial remains of macaws and amazon parrots from five archaeological sites in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile to improve our understanding of their taxonomic identity, chronology, cultural context, and mechanisms of acquisition. We conducted a multiproxy archaeometric study that included zooarchaeological analysis, isotopic dietary reconstruction, accelerated mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating, and paleogenomic analysis. The results reveal that during the Late Intermediate Period (1100 to 1450 CE), Atacama oasis communities acquired scarlet macaws (Ara macao) and at least five additional translocated parrot species through vast exchange networks that extended more than 500 km toward the eastern Amazonian tropics. Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes indicate that Atacama aviculturalists sustained these birds on diets rich in marine bird guano-fertilized maize-based foods. The captive rearing of these colorful, exotic, and charismatic birds served to unambiguously signal relational wealth in a context of emergent intercommunity competition.


Mummified Parrots Reveal 'Sophisticated' Trade In Ancient South American Desert

A recent study of mummified parrots found in a high-altitude desert region in South America suggests to researchers that, as far back as some 900 years ago, people went to arduous lengths to transport the prized birds across vast and complex trade routes.

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

So how did they get there?

A team of researchers, which published their findings this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, think they have the answer: During a period between the years 1100 and 1450, Atacama communities used long caravans of llamas to transport the precious cargo, trekking more than 500 miles on a route from the Amazon rainforest, through the craggy Andes mountain range, to the harsh desert terrain.

"This trip likely lasted several weeks if not months," José Capriles, a lead author of the study, told NPR. "That required quite a bit of sophisticated knowledge, being able to trap the birds, keep them in captivity and then transport them across these high mountains."

Like rare gems or high-end cars today, the colorful feathers of exotic birds signaled wealth and power in the pre-Columbian Americas. They adorned the headdresses of elites and even carried spiritual significance.

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 nurtured for their feathers and, sometimes, mummified.

"In a place with so limited resources and so limited color, these feathers were incredibly important," he said. "It was a cultural, social, ritual phenomenon. These feathers really crosscut these different spheres of value."

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

As evidenced by the unearthed remains, the birds, seen essentially as living feather factories, were often treated poorly.

"We've all seen whole chickens on the supermarket. These just have a few more feathers, if you will," said Capriles.

He and his colleagues also found that the birds were nutritionally deprived. They were fed the same nitrogen-rich food that their captors subsisted on, a maize-based diet that was fertilized with marine bird manure.

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

His mother, Eliana Flores Bedregal, who was an ornithologist and co-author of the study, died of cancer before they could finish the work. Capriles hopes that wherever she is, she feels proud of what they achieved.

Like rare gems or high-end cars today, the colorful feathers of parrots and macaws were once signs of wealth and status in the pre-Columbian Americas. The feathers adorned the clothes and headdresses of elites and even carried spiritual significance.

JOSE CAPRILES: You know, in a place with so limited resources and so limited color, if you think about it - there were not a lot of sources of brightly colored things - these feathers were incredibly important.

That's Jose Capriles of Penn State. He says the birds were raised and nurtured for their feathers and sometimes ritually mummified.

CAPRILES: We've all seen, like, you know, whole chickens on a supermarket. And (laughter) these are - just have a few more feathers, if you will.

CHANG: His team studied the faded feathers and mummies of 27 birds found decades ago at archaeological sites in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Using radiocarbon dating and ancient DNA analysis, the researchers ID'd at least six different species of birds which lived 600 to 900 years ago.

CORNISH: But that leaves the question of how the birds got to these desert oases. The Atacama is one of the driest places in the world and hundreds of miles from where the birds live today.

CHANG: Capriles now thinks the answer may be vast trade routes, which twisted through the craggy Andes and out to the Amazon rainforest - oh, and all done by caravans of llamas.

CAPRILES: So that required quite a bit of sophisticated knowledge - you know, being able to trap the birds, keep them in captivity and then transport them across these high mountains. It was a cultural, social, ritual phenomenon. These feathers really cross-cut these different spheres of value.

CORNISH: The work appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

CHANG: Studying these trade routes was also a personal journey for Capriles. His mother Eliana Flores Bedregal was an ornithologist and co-author on the paper. She died of cancer before they finished the work, and Capriles hopes that, wherever she is, she feels proud of what they achieved.


Watch the video: Pet Center amazon parrots