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Stories That Mummified Parrots Tell

According to a recent study of mummified parrots discovered in high altitude desert areas of South America, researchers were able to transport prized birds through vast and complex trades as early as 900 years ago.

Outside of the house in the Amazon rain forest, in the north of Chile in the Arid Atacama Desert, were found remains of more than two dozen Scarlet macaws and Amazon parrots.

A research team published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and believes they have found the solution: From 1100 to 1450, Atacama villages used long caravans of lamps to transport precious cargo and hiked for over 500 miles on the road from the Amazon rain forest to the rough desert terrain, through the sparkling Andes mountains.

In pre-Columbian America, the colorful feathers of exotic birds denoted wealth and power. They adorned the headdresses of the aristocracy and even had spiritual significance.

The birds were so valuable to the society at the time they were grown and nurtured in their feather and sometimes mummified, said Capriles, an archaeologist and an assistant professor of anthropology at Penn State University.

Scientists have identified at least six different species with methods such as radioactive carbon dating and ancient DNA analysis to study 27 intact and partial remains. The birds, seen mainly as living feather factories, have often been poorly treated, as shown by the unearthing remains.

Capriles and his colleagues also discovered that the birds were nutritionally deficient. They were fed the same nitrogen-rich diet as their captors, a maize-based diet fertilized with marine bird manure.


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