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Pastoralism in Northern Peru during Pre-Hispanic Times: Insights from the Mochica Period (100–800 AD) Based on Stable Isotopic Analysis of Domestic Camelids

Abstract : Llama (Lama glama) and alpaca (Vicugna pacos) are the only large domesticated animals indigenous to the Americas. Pastoralism occupies a fundamental economic, social and religious role in Andean life. Today, camelid livestock are confined to the ecozone of the puna (above 3,500 masl), while their presence on the Pacific coast during pre-Hispanic times is attested by archaeological skeletal remains. This study aims to document herding practices on the northern Peruvian coast during the Early Intermediate Period (200 BC-600 AD) by gaining insights into diet, location of breeding and mobility of archaeological camelids from the funerary and ritual contexts of two Mochica sites, Uhle Platform in Huacas de Moche and El Brujo. The three first early years and the long-term life histories of the animals were documented by the combined bulk analysis of bone collagen (δ13Ccol and δ15Ncol) and bone structural carbonate (δ13Cbone and δ18Obone) and the serial analysis of structural carbonate of molar tooth enamel (δ13Cenamel and δ18Oenamel). Mochica camelids were bred in the low and/or middle valleys, unlike their modern counterparts, who are restricted to highland puna C3 pastures. Archaeological camelids had diverse and complex life histories, usually with substantial maize foddering. An ontogenetic switch in diet and possible residential mobility during the course of life were identified for some specimens. Although the inference of geographic origin from δ18Obone and δ18Oenamel values was limited because of the lack of understanding of the influence of environmental and biological factors, tooth enamel analysis has great potential for exploring camelid herding practices and Andean pastoralism. Our study suggested that Mochica herders adapted their practices to the difficult lowland environment and that herding practices were varied and not restricted to breeding at higher altitudes. The role of maize in different aspects of the economic life of the Mochicas is also underlined.
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Elise Dufour, Nicolas Goepfert, Belkys Gutiérrez Léon, Claude Chauchat, Régulo Franco Jordán, et al.. Pastoralism in Northern Peru during Pre-Hispanic Times: Insights from the Mochica Period (100–800 AD) Based on Stable Isotopic Analysis of Domestic Camelids. PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2014, 9 (1), pp.e87559. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0087559⟩. ⟨halshs-01886230⟩

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