This post was contributed by John A. Moretti, co-author of a recent paper in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology on the occurrence of Thick-billed Parrot remains at archaeological sites in the Southwest.
The American Southwest conjures images of giant saguaro cacti, Gila monsters, and vast deserts. This landscape and ecology are a starkly different from the tropical forests and savanna of Central and South America, but preserved within the iconic ancient Native American pueblos of the American Southwest are the skeletons of Scarlet Macaws. Genetic and isotopic data show that the over 100 individual Scarlet Macaws found at sites such as Wupatki and Chaco Canyon were imported from Mesoamerica. Those highly intelligent, brightly colored birds appear to have held ritual significance for Southwestern cultures, and their transport into the region was part of an ancient cultural exchange of both objects and ideas. Scarlet Macaws are the most common member of the parrot clade (i.e., Psittacidae) in archaeological sites within the present-day United States, but other species, including Military Macaws, Thick-billed Parrots, and even a rare few parakeets also occur. Those species are generally regarded by archaeologists as exotic objects, transported into the region from present-day Mexico—but could one of them have originated much closer?Continue reading