Pre-Columbian transregional captive rearing of Amazonian parrots in the atacama desert

José M. Capriles, Calogero M. Santoro, Richard J. George, Eliana Flores Bedregal, Douglas J. Kennett, Logan Kistler, Francisco Rothhammer

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18 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020020118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
StatePublished - Apr 13 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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