Photo: Llama dung helped Incas prosper
New research identifies llama dung as the key to the success of the Incan empire before the arrival of Europeans in South America.
At the height of their success as a civilization in the 14th and 15 centuries, the Incas ruled over about 775,000 square miles, most of which now makes up Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
A recent study led by Alex Chepstow-Lusty of the French Institute of Andean Studies in Lima, Peru, shows that llama poop began being used as fertilizer about 2700 years ago, and that marks the start of the mass growing of maize (corn).
This is significant, since before then, the main staple of their diet was quinoa. As the Inca population grew, quinoa was no longer capable of sustaining a large and advancing civilization. However, maize could, but due to the harsh and mostly inhospitable Andean highlands, growing maize would prove difficult until the introduction of llama poop.
While Cheptow-Lusty noted the temporarily warmer climate of the time, he credits the llama dung for allowing maize to be grow in the harsh climate.
Llamas are indigenous to the area and have been domesticated for about 3500 years, but around 2700 years ago, the oribatid mite population, which feeds on llama dung, saw a boom, which would indicate that more dung was been spread and thus leached into lakes where the mites reside.
“The widespread shift to agriculture and societal development was only possible with this extra ingredient – organic fertilisers on a vast scale,” said Chepstow-Lusty.
Graham Thiele, an Andean agriculture specialist at the International Potato Centre in Lima, agrees with Chepstow-Lusty, and says the study of the llam dung is a good one. He said that maize could be stored for much longer than other local foods of the time, not to mention it provided much more energy.
“It could be stored, and traded and moved over long distances,” he said, which would make it ideal for sustaining an empire.
Chepstow-Lusty said that though the Incas took nearly 2 millennia to reach their peak, their advancement never would have occurred without the help of the llama dung.