Llama dung contributed to Inca success in the Andes

May 23, 2011 by Deborah Braconnier report
Image: Johann Dréo/Wikipedia

(PhysOrg.com) -- The famous Inca city of Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes was rediscovered by American explorer Hiram Bingham in July 1911 and the area plans to hold a special 100 year celebration this year. However, the famous city and the Inca civilization have already hit the spotlight in a new study published in Antiquity that links the use of llama dung to the Inca success in high altitude agriculture.

Alex Chepstow-Lusty from the French Institute of Andean Studies in Lima has spent the last few years analyzing mud samples from a small lake located between the jungle and Machu Picchu. By analyzing a 6.3 meter long core sample taken from the lake bottom, Chepstow-Lusty and his team discovered a correlation between a spike in the number of mites and maize pollen 2700 years ago. These mites feed on animal excrement and the researchers believe that the use of llama dung as a fertilizer was what enabled the Incas to grow corn in their high altitude location.

Llamas were used as a source of meat and wool, as well as used to carry items. Llamas defecate communally, so it was an easily collectable source of natural fertilizer. This use of natural fertilizer aided in the maize crops thriving and allowed the Incas to move away from their dependence on wild quinoa and increase their caloric intake with maize.

Other researchers, such as Christine Hastorf from the University of California, Berkeley argue that the argument for fertilization has not yet been proven. While this new research does show an increase in mites and llama dung, there is no evidence to show it was used as a . She points out that plants that are fertilized with animal manure have a higher nitrogen isotopic signature. In order to show a connection between the two, she believes there needs to be studies done on ancient plant remains and the bones from the ancient Inca people in the area.

Explore further: Ancient Peruvian site forces experts to re-think past

More information: Agro-pastoralism and social change in the Cuzco heartland of Peru: a brief history using environmental proxies, by Alex Chepstow‑Lusty, Volume: 85  Number: 328  Page: 570–582. antiquity.ac.uk/ant/085/ant0850570.htm

Related Stories

Early Andean maize is unearthed

March 2, 2006

Archaeologists say they've found evidence that ancient Peruvians grew maize more than a millennium earlier than previously thought.

Ancient Peruvian metallurgy studied

April 19, 2007

Ancient metal pollution trapped within the mud at the bottom of a lake in Peru reveals the Andean people were smelting copper as far back as 1,000 years ago.

Peru president says Yale to return Inca artifacts

November 20, 2010

(AP) -- Peru's president announced Friday that Yale University has agreed to return thousands of artifacts taken away from the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu nearly a century ago.

Human urine as a safe, inexpensive fertilizer for food crops

October 8, 2007

Researchers in Finland are reporting successful use of an unlikely fertilizer for farm fields that is inexpensive, abundantly available, and undeniably organic -- human urine. Their report on use of urine to fertilize cabbage ...

Recommended for you

Science: Public interest high, literacy stable

October 28, 2016

While public interest in science continues to grow, the level of U.S. scientific literacy remains largely unchanged, according to a survey by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

Experts uncover hidden layers of Jesus' tomb site

October 27, 2016

In the innermost chamber of the site said to be the tomb of Jesus, a restoration team has peeled away a marble layer for the first time in centuries in an effort to reach what it believes is the original rock surface where ...

Important ancient papyrus seized from looters in Israel

October 27, 2016

(Phys.org)—Eitan Klein, a representative of the Israel Antiquities Authority, has announced that an important papyrus document dated to 2,700 years ago has been seized from a group of Palestinian looters who reportedly ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.