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Incan Empire Spread With Help From Llama Dung

May 23, 2011

Machu Picchu, the famous Inca city set in the Peruvian Andes, celebrates the centenary of its ‘discovery’ by the outside world. Now, a study published in archaeological review Antiquity explains that lowly llama droppings provided the basis for the growth of Incan society, BBC News reports.

As agriculture became established over hunting to sustain the community about 2,700 years ago in the Cuzco area where Machu Picchu sits, the development of agriculture and the growing of maize crops became key to the growth of societies.

“Cereals make civilizations,” Alex Chepstow-Lusty, of the French Institute of Andean Studies in Lima, declared.

Chepstow-Lusty has spent years analyzing organic deposits in the mud of a small lake called Marcaccocha on the road between the lower-lying jungle and Machu Picchu.

A correlation was found by his research team between the first appearance of maize pollen around 700 BC – which showed for the first time that the cereal could be grown at high altitudes – and an increase in the number of mites who feed on animal excrement.

Research concluded that the widespread shift to agriculture was only possible with large-scale organic fertilizers. Many tons of llama droppings.

Manure from llama herds provided fertilizer which enabled corn to be cultivated at very high altitudes, boosting calorie intake, leading to a decline in the growth and consumption of other local grains.

Corn was introduced about 5,000 years ago to South America from Mexico but did not make its way up the Andes until humans enriched the soil with help from llama herds. With their civilization flourishing in the Andes the Incans went on to conquer much of South America.

The Incas also used llama manure as fuel to cook and make ceramics. Garcilaso de la Vega, an early Spanish chronicler, noted that farmers in the Cuzco valley also used human manure to fertilize crops, The Guardian explains.

In the 12th century, the Incas were just one of several tribes in what is today Peru. By the 15th century, they their empire encompassed parts of modern-day Argentina, Boliva, Chile and Ecuador.

The Incans were done as an empire when Spanish conquistadores defeated the Incas and killed the emperor, Atahualpa, in 1533. The citadel of Machu Picchu was left abandoned and remained unknown to the outside world until an American explorer, Hiram Bingham, “rediscovered” it in July 1911.

The anniversary is expected to boost the already large numbers of tourists who visit the site.

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