A Moment of Science

Did You Know That Llamas Helped The Inca Empire?

Scientists analyzing ancient lake mud think that the success and development of the Inca empire was partially due to llama dung.

black and white llama

Photo: airflore (Flickr)

Llamas were domesticated early on.

A warmer climate might have helped the maize farmers of Peru expand into new farming environments, but scientists analyzing ancient lake mud think that the success and development of the Inca empire was partially due to llama dung.

Llamas are members of the camel family that can reach nearly six feet in height, and weigh up to four hundred fifty pounds. According to the fossil record, they were originally found in North America and didn’t migrate to South America until a land bridge formed between the continents about three million years ago.

Despite their tendency to spit, kick, and neck wrestle, llamas were domesticated and used as pack animals by the ancient Peruvians.

Why Is Llama Dung So Interesting?

Curious about how the Inca were able to develop into an empire, archaeologists studied mud cores in a lake bed near an ancient Andean fortress in Peru.

They knew that an agricultural revolution occurred about five thousand years ago. At that time, Peruvians switched from hunting and gathering to growing maize. Good crop yields gave them extra time to develop a civilization and expand their population from Ecuador to Chile.

The Question Is, How Did The Revolution Happen So Quickly?

Oribatid mite remains gave archaeologists a clue. You see, Oribatid mites eat llama dung. Even though the dung disappears over time, mite remains don’t. A boom in the mite population suggested that llamas were suddenly everywhere. And with llamas came lots of dung.

Any farmer will tell you, manure is one of Mother Nature’s best organic fertilizers. The Peruvians might have had great leaders and warriors, but without llama dung to help grow plenty of maize and other crops, they might have been working the fields, not conquering a continent.

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