Mysterious mummies of tropical forest parrots beneath the Atacama Desert

The Atacama is an extremely inhospitable desert in South America. It is thought to have existed 15 million years ago with an extremely dry climate. This desert thus becomes the location that exists on Earth with the most similar conditions to Mars. Every sci-fi movie featuring Mars to NASA’s landing tests has been done here.

Obviously, Atacama is not an ideal place to live. A rain in this desert can sow even more death than life. 75-85% of the native species here are reported extinct after a single rain, simply because they are accustomed to dry climates.

Yet in a surprising study, archaeologists found mummies of a series of parrots with hairless underneath the Atacama Desert. They are identified as tropical parrots that once possessed the most colorful feathers when living in the Amazon jungle.

So how did these parrots get here? Why are they hairless and solemn mummified beside human tombs?

Mysterious mummies of Amazon parrots underneath the Atacama Desert

During a visit to the Atacama Desert, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States went to Pica 8, the archaeological site located near an oasis in the desert that still exists today.

Here, they found tombs dating back to pre-Columbian times (before Columbus discovered America. They date from the years 1100 to 1450. What’s special is next to human tombs) Archaeologists also found 27 mummies of parrots.

They are identified as tropical parrots, belonging to 6 different species that used to live in the Amazon forest. Nearly all parrots are hairless and have their organs removed for careful mummification.

This removal is done through the vent (the bird’s secretory and reproductive organs) “said anthropological archaeologist Jose Capriles from the University of Pennsylvania. “Many are also wrapped in bags or wrapped in cloth “.

Mysterious mummies of tropical forest parrots beneath the Atacama Desert | Living

These parrots are also positioned in a very sophisticated posture. Their beaks are kept open with their tongues out – perhaps as part of a ritual practice since the old concept that parrots can speak human language. Some were mummified in a wide-open position, as if they were still able to fly while traveling to the afterlife.

However, Eliana Flores Bedregal, an ornithologist and also the biological mother of Capriles, noticed that most of these parrots appeared to have been mistreated when they lived. They had their feathers stripped off, and some had their wings and legs broken before they died. All parrots lost their tail feathers. Only a handful of these parrots are well cared for, such as cutting their beaks, nails and bandages.

“We have absolutely no idea why they were mummified like this“, Says Capriles.

How do tropical parrots reach the desert?

One thing is for sure, parrots did not spontaneously fly from the Amazon to Atacama. It took them months to complete that journey. And the parrots living in the rainforest will die in the desert, so there is no motivation for them to leave their home for Atacama.

The only reason why Amazon parrots appear here is that the humans brought them. Because parrots are extremely rare animals in the desert, their feathers are so colorful and eye-catching, says Bedregal, that indigenous people may have considered them as expensive pets.

Mysterious mummies of tropical forest parrots beneath the Atacama Desert | Living

This explains why some parrots have been taken great care of while alive, from clipping to cutting their beaks, and then being mummified after their owners after they died. However, it does not explain why the majority of other parrots have their tail cut off and their feathers stripped off.

Bedregal is now a new comparison of South American culture in the pre-Columbian period. She said: “The feathers of tropical birds are among the most important symbols of economic, social, and sacred status in America.

In the Andes, finely produced clothing and textiles contain the multicolored feathers of tropical parrots. It realizes power, prestige and distinction so it is often particularly appreciated by the political and religious elites.

These stripped parrots can be victims of feather dealers. This trade has existed for a long time, even from the 5050s BC. For thousands of years, the feather remains a widely used ornament on South American clothing, hats and jewelry.

Normally, parrot feathers will be plucked and collected from the Amazon and brought back to Atacama in special containers. But the mummies of 27 parrots present show that sometimes live parrots also become victims of trafficking.

They have had to travel a long way in captivity. And brutally deprived of his showy fur – possibly the cause of trauma that left a broken bone on the mummy.

Mysterious mummies of tropical forest parrots beneath the Atacama Desert | Living

Mysterious mummies of tropical forest parrots beneath the Atacama Desert | Living

The way people treat animals is different from time to time“, Says Capriles.”These birds have not had a happy life. They are raised solely to produce feathers and their fur is plucked off as soon as they are big enough.

The ultimate consolation for these animals is that they have been taken care of after death. “Most of these birds are buried with the same ritual as humans “, the authors write in the research published in the journal PNAS.

Refer Sciencealert

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