- Mummified remains of 27 parrots were analysed as part of a study
- They were found in oasis communities in the Atacama desert in Chile
- Analysis shows they were transported there across the Andes from the Amazon
- They were regularly plucked while in small cages and carried across the 10,000ft tall mountain range Parrots were carried across the Andes almost 1,000 years ago so vendors could sell their colourful feathers to customers in the Atacama desert, a study has found.
Analysis of six mummified species revealed they were carried more than 300 miles from their native region in the eastern Amazon to the arid land across the mountains.
During their life they were captured from the wild, kept in cages strapped to llamas and fed on a maize diet while their plumage was regularly plucked.
Vibrant feathers were highly valuable items in pre-Columbian societies across South America, with owners preserving them in cases and often being buried with them.
Scroll down for video
While the importance of feathers has long been known for South American civilisations before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the role of bird mummification remains enigmatic.
Twenty-seven samples, either whole or partially preserved, were studied by researchers.
The birds had their innards sucked out via their cloaca, the same orifice which heir waste is excreted through, and then wrapped in cloth or bags.
Co-author of the paper, Dr José M. Capriles, assistant professor of anthropology at Penn State University, says: 'We have absolutely no idea why they were mummified like this.'They were found to be up to 900 years old and belong to six species: the scarlet macaw, blue-and-yellow macaw, mealy amazon, yellow-crowned amazon, blue-fronted amazon, and mitred conure.
Isotope analysis of their remains revealed the location they died in was not the place they were born.
Instead it proved they ended up in the Atacama deserts, the driest place in the world, after being born across the continent in the Amazon rainforest.
Researchers believe traders used llama caravans to haul the birds across the 10,000ft high Andes mountain range, battling cold weather and rough terrain.
'Llamas are not the best pack animals, because they aren't that strong,' Dr Capriles says.
'The fact that llama caravans brought macaws and parrots across the Andes and across the desert to this oasis is amazing.
'They had to be transported across huge steppes, cold weather and difficult terrain to the Atacama. And they had to be kept alive.'
The parrots, the researchers believe, would not be able to cross the mountain range themselves.
The conditions the animals were kept in as they were lugged across the mountains and into the desert would have been far worse than the accredited animal rights standard of today's world, the experts say.
'What we consider acceptable interactions with animals under our care was very different back then,' said Capriles.
'Some of these birds did not live a happy life. They were kept to produce feathers and their feathers were plucked out as soon as they grew in.'
There is also evidence of the birds having their claws and beaks trimmed, indicating they likely were kept alive in these conditions for long periods of time.
Most of the bird remains the researchers found date to between 1100 and 1450AD, between the end of the Tiwanaku empire and the emergence of the Inca Empire.
According to Capriles, it was a time of warfare, but also a great time for commerce, with frequent llama caravans moving about.
The majority of the mummies were found at Pica 8, an archaeological site near an oasis community that still exists today as a trade hub.
The research is published in he journal PNAS.
Archaeologists discover a 3,200-year-old shrine to a knife-wielding SPIDER GOD associated with rain and fertility in Peru
A giant 3,200-year-old mural of a spider god has been discovered in Peru.
The scene reveals an arachnid holding various knives and it is thought locals prayed to the mysterious god in the belief the deity had control of fertility and rain.
Most of the relic has been destroyed by farmers who tried to remove the mural in an effort to expand their arable land.
The discovery was made in the valleys of the province of Viru in the Peruvian department of Lambayeque.
Locals uncovered the ancient site while using large machinery such as excavators to expand their avocado and sugar cane plantations.
Images of the mural reveal scars of the attempted demolition etched into the ancient artwork.
More than half of the original temple was demolished in November 2020 but a 50ft x 20ft (15m x 6m) patch survived.