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Llama droppings aided in the rise of the Incas

New research is suggesting that the Inca used llama droppings to fertilize their crops, allowing them to grow at high altitudes.

In the June issue of Antiquity, paleoecologist Alex Chepstow-Lusty of the Institut Français d’Etudes Andines in Lima, presents findings from a lake sediment core showing that farmers near Cuzco began raising large numbers of llamas and alpacas some 2700 years ago, just when maize farming first took off in the region. That’s also the time when a small chiefdom society, the forerunner of the great Incan civilization, began to emerge. Chepstow-Lusty wondered whether these were all connected. “Maize soon strips the fertility from the soils and this needs to be replenished by fertilizers,” he says, and dung was an obvious choice to keep the fields growing. Maybe that in turn helped make more complex societies possible.

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Story: Heather Pringle, Science Magazine | Photo: Alex Chepstow-Lusty

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