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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: August 2009



A mountain climate means frost, and hail, and storms, against which desirable domesticated plants should be able to protect themselves … [R]oot crops provide the remedy to those conditions, and among them the potato is preeminent.

Sophia D. Coe (1994)

IN SOUTH AMERICA, as in Mesoamerica, hunter-gatherers encountered those many difficulties that eventually thrust practically everybody into sedentary agriculture. Around 11,000 years ago people in the Andean region were large-animal hunters, employing fluted points to bring down the giant sloth or the horse – their preferred prey. As these animals became extinct, fluted points disappeared and were replaced by others that indicate a switch to smaller game – deer, camelids, birds, rodents, and the like. Gathered foods such as amaranth and chenopodium seeds (especially quinoa) supplemented the diet, along with beans and white and sweet potatoes.

Archeological evidence in the Andean region from around 9,000 years ago, however, indicates some sidling toward sedentism. There was increase in the number of camelid bones that, in turn, suggests the beginning of camelid herding, which eventually begat the domesticated llama (Lama glama) and alpaca (Lama pacos). These wild South American members of the camel family were serious sources of food in the Andean highlands of Peru and Bolivia and may have been domesticated for their flesh as well as for their labor, that flesh freeze-dried to become charqui, which lasts indefinitely. Native Americans who kept llamas and alpacas did not milk them, however, which meant they passed up a good source of protein.

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A Movable Feast
  • Online ISBN: 9780511512148
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