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    Posted: 10-Apr-2017 at 21:13

Prehistoric Native Americans farmed macaws in 'feather factories'

To ancient peoples of the American Southwest, a macaw’s brilliant feathers weren’t just adornments. They were status symbols and spiritual emblems — so precious, in fact, that macaws were kept in captivity and deliberately plucked of their plumage, new evidence suggests.

Macaw skeletons from three prehistoric pueblos in New Mexico bear signs of feather harvesting, according to analysis presented on 31 March at a meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Vancouver, Canada. But the skeletons also hint that the macaws’ handlers went to great lengths to care for their demanding charges. “People were doing their utmost to keep them alive,” says Randee Fladeboe, an archaeologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville who analysed the macaw bones.

Archaeologists studying the ancient Native Americans called the Puebloans and nearby groups have found macaw bones and feathers dating from ad 300 to ad 1450 at sites ranging from Utah in the American Southwest to Chihuahua in Mexico. It is likely that many of these birds were imported; there is scanty evidence of macaw breeding, except at one Mexican site, and many macaws are tropical. The highly prized scarlet macaw (Ara macao), for example, lives at least 500 kilometres to the southeast.

Fladeboe examined the wing bones of 17 scarlet and military macaws (Ara militaris) from three pueblos. Fifteen of the birds had small bumps marring the upper surfaces of their wing bones.

A macaw’s flight feathers are rooted in the bone, so pulling them out can cause bleeding and infection, Fladeboe says. Multiple infections, or a combination of infection and malnutrition, lead to bumps like those on the skeletons. Macaws do sometimes yank out their own feathers, but the ancient bones show traces of multiple feather loss along their entire lengths and on both right and left wings. To Fladeboe, it seems unlikely that 15 of the 17 macaws she studied would strip themselves so methodically.

Tough old birds

One macaw had suffered two broken wings, and its beak bore signs of attacks from other macaws. Its bones also show irregularities from either malnutrition or illness. This macaw probably would not have survived without hand-feeding and protection, Fladeboe says.

Fladeboe makes a “good preliminary case” that the birds were plucked by humans, says zooarchaeologist Erin Keenan Early at Texas State University in San Marcos, who thinks the evidence that the birds were well cared for is also credible. Fladeboe plans to do computerized tomography scanning of the bones to confirm her early results.

Macaws that were stressed by captivity and feather removal may have engaged in “self-destructive and otherwise aggressive behavior, making them quite difficult to care for”, says zooarchaeologist Meredith Wismer of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Fladeboe thinks that the birds’ caretakers probably learned to soothe the macaws; happy macaws have more attractive feathers. 


Few sites had more macaws than Chaco Canyon, a cluster of settlements in New Mexico. Chaco’s Pueblo Bonito even had what seems to be an aviary, complete with a layer of guano 25 centimetres thick. A radiocarbon analysis demonstrated that macaws were living there in the late 1000s and early 1100s, even as the pueblo was heading towards collapse.

Earlier research had shown that birds were imported to the pueblo when it was flourishing1. But seemingly the pueblo’s access to macaws “continued throughout the rise and decline of Chaco”, illustrating the birds’ importance, says archaeologist Adam Watson of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, who presented the new dates at the meeting on 30 March.

Macaw keepers at places such as Chaco Canyon clearly had to go to great lengths to procure the water and food the birds needed, Fladeboe says. To ancient Southwestern peoples, the macaws served a role befitting their powers as ambassadors to the underworld and bringers of rain. The macaws’ caretakers “did obviously care for the birds”, she says. “To say that they only cared about them [for] their feather output would be to do them a disservice.”

http://www.nature.com/news/prehistoric-native-americans-farmed-macaws-in-feather-factories-1.21803

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  Quote TheAlaniDragonRising Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-May-2017 at 15:50

How migrations and other population dynamics could have shaped early human culture


Something odd happened in the transition from the Middle to the Upper Paleolithic, around 50,000 years ago. Modern humans and their immediate ancestors had been using tools for a few million years prior, but the repertoire was limited. Then, all of sudden, there was an explosion of new tools, art and other cultural artifacts.

What caused that change has been the subject of much debate. Maybe brainpower reached a critical threshold. Maybe climate change forced our prehistoric kin to innovate or die. Maybe it was aliens.

Or maybe it was the result of populations growing and spreading throughout the land, Stanford researchers write in Royal Society Interface. That certainly could explain some other curious features of Paleolithic culture—and it could mean that a number of paleontologists' inferences about our genetic and environmental past are, if not wrong, not as well supported as they had thought.

Cultural bursts

"One captivating observation is if you look at the archaeological record, it seems to be highly punctuated" leading up to the Upper Paleolithic, said Oren Kolodny, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Marcus Feldman, a professor of biology. In other words, Kolodny said, the Paleolithic was a time marked by periods of slow change separated by bursts of cultural innovation.

"Those cultural bursts have been taken as evidence of an external change," such as genetic or environmental shifts, said Nicole Creanza, who led the study with Kolodny while a postdoctoral fellow in Feldman's lab. "But to some extent, Oren, Marc and I felt that the simplest explanation could be that culture itself is capable of behaving in a punctuated fashion," said Creanza, who is now an assistant professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University.

A search for something simpler

The researchers wondered, how could culture create these bursts of innovation?

In a 2015 paper, Kolodny, Creanza and Feldman, who is also co-director of Stanford's Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics, argued that human culture could have evolved through several distinct kinds of advance. First, some ideas emerge as "lucky leaps," Kolodny said—perhaps an early human witnessed a mouse get trapped in a tangle of grass, and the hunting net was born. Other ideas could emerge either as extensions of those leaps or as combinations of other ideas or technologies. Finally, groups can also lose ideas, as prehistoric Tasmanians did when they lost, incredibly, the knowledge of how to fish, Kolodny said.

Aided by computer simulations, the team showed that combining the three kinds of advance could have led directly to bursts of innovation, as seen in the archaeological record. They also found that at the point where new ideas balance out with lost ones, the number of ideas a population can support increases dramatically with population size. A population twice the size, Kolodny, Creanza and Feldman's model predicted, could support much more than twice the number of ideas.

Migration and other game changers

In their latest paper, Creanza, Kolodny and Feldman, who is also the Burnet C. and Mildred Finley Wohlford Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, combined those conclusions with two new components. First, they considered migrations between otherwise distinct populations and assumed that such travel is more likely in larger populations. Second, they studied what would happen if certain major innovations, such as domesticating plants or developing hunting knives, helped grow the population.

The updated model made a number of predictions that at least qualitatively resemble what archaeologists know about cultural evolution in the Paleolithic.

First, when population sizes are small and migration is relatively rare, a pattern of cultural booms and busts is likely. Essentially, the occasional travel may bring a new idea, setting off a boom. Then, without a steady stream of new ideas or population growth - that is, a steady stream of new brains to contain all those new ideas - some ideas will be lost to time.

Innovations that encouraged population growth, however, can have lasting effects, since even slight increases in population size can support a disproportionate increase in innovation.

Migration can do something similar. As travel increases, it bridges societies, allowing for an exchange of ideas that creates a complex of interrelated cultures. And as travel becomes common, smaller groups effectively merge into one large population, with vastly more capacity for innovation. In fact, that can create a feedback loop: populations grow, contact with others increases, innovation results and populations grow even more....

http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/spring-2017/article/how-migrations-and-other-population-dynamics-could-have-shaped-early-human-culture



Edited by TheAlaniDragonRising - 06-May-2017 at 16:01
What a handsome figure of a dragon. No wonder I fall madly in love with the Alani Dragon now, the avatar, it's a gorgeous dragon picture.
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