Earth Sciences Publications

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Environmental Archaeology

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South American camelids (llamas and alpacas) were of great economic, social and ritual significance in the pre-Hispanic Andes. Although these animals are largely limited to high-altitude (>3500 masl) pastures, it has been hypothesised that camelids were also raised at lower altitudes in the arid coastal river valleys. Previous isotopic studies of Early Intermediate Period (c. 200 BC - AD 600) and Middle Horizon (c. AD 600 - 1100) camelids support this argument. Here, we utilise carbon and nitrogen isotopic analyses of camelid bone collagen from the Early Horizon (c. 800 - 200 BC) sites of Caylán and Huambacho on the north-central coast of Peru to examine the management of these animals during the first millennium BC. Most of the camelid isotopic compositions are consistent with the acquisition of animals that were part of caravans, moving between the coast and the highlands. A small number of the animals may have been raised on the coast, suggesting that the practice of coastal camelid husbandry was in the experimental phase during the Early Horizon before growing into a more established practice in the Early Intermediate Period. These results echo zooarchaeological studies from the region that have revealed a paucity of camelid remains in refuse deposits prior to 800 BC, followed by an increase in abundance after 450 BC.

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