Mites as archaeological indicators of change

This joint project with the University of Sussex is assessing mites as indicators of changing livestock densities, and therefore agricultural activity, leading up to the end of the Inca Empire.

At its height, the Inca Empire occupied a large area of western South America. Details of its development and ultimate collapse are poorly understood, partly due to the lack of a written history.

Livestock levels over time are being studied because ancient Peruvian cultures relied on domesticated animals (mainly llamas) for food, wool, fuel, fertiliser and transport. Changes in livestock densities affect the amount of dung and, therefore, nutrients deposited. Variation in habitat enrichment influences the number and species of mites present.

Mites are being extracted from 1200 years of sediment samples from the in-filled lake basin of Marcacocha in Peru. The site is an area of pasture on an ancient trans-Andean trading route where llama caravans would have been grazed and watered.

Identifying the mites will shed light on their habitat and food preferences. This information will be used to build a more detailed understanding of past agricultural activity in the region.

Project collaborators

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