New research seems to indicate that Native Americans once “farmed” Macaws in the American Southwest and northern Mexico! Apparently, these magnificent birds were status symbols and spiritual emblems to Native Americans. New evidence points to Macaws being kept and plucked of their plumage by Native Americans deliberately not by happen-chance.
Three prehistoric pueblos in New Mexico have yielded Macaw bones that have signs of feather harvesting according to a meeting of the Society for American Archaeology recently in Vancouver, BC. It also appears that Macaw handlers went to great lengths to care for their birds and keep them alive. Further, Macaw bones and feathers have been found at sites all the way from Utah to Chihuahua dating in range from 300 to 1450 years old. Most likely these birds were imported to these regions via trade as most Macaws are tropical birds and there is no evidence of breeding these birds other than one site in Mexico.
The Macaw’s flight feathers are rooted in the bone and when they are pulled out it can cause bleeding and even infection. When 17 Macaw wing bones were examined from 3 pueblos no less than 15 showed small bumps on the upper surface which is indicative of having their flight feathers pulled out which is a result of malnutrition and infection. Sometimes these birds yank out their own feathers but the bones found in the Pueblos show traces of multiple feather loss along the entire length on both wings. It is unlikely these birds would have done that themselves.
Interior of one of the magnificent ruins at Chaco Canyon, NM
It appears that the site with the most Macaws was CHACO CANYON in northwestern New Mexico! Researchers now suspect the Pueblo Bonito site there may have even had an aviary that had a layer of guano 25 cm thick! Analysis indicates Macaws were living in this area in the late 1000’s AD and early 1100 ADs. That would mean that even when Chaco culture was moving towards collapse Macaws were still being “feather farmed.”
We’ve actually known Macaws were at this site for a while now and there are also accounts from the Conquistadors and priests who first came into New Mexico of Macaws being raised at some of the Pueblos. We also find Macaw remains at Aztec and Mayan sites among others. So the Macaw may have well been a sort of universal symbol of status and power in ancient cultures ranging from the American Southwest to Central
America and perhaps even beyond!
I love these birds and think this new research is fantastic!
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