Investigating pre-Hispanic scarlet macaw origins through radiogenic strontium isotope analysis at Paquimé in Chihuahua, Mexico

Christopher W. Schwartz, Andrew D. Somerville, Ben A. Nelson, Kelly J. Knudson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The pre-Hispanic settlement of Paquimé (1150/1200–1450 CE) in northwestern Chihuahua exhibits extensive evidence of exchange connections with distant communities, including the remains of over 300 scarlet macaws (Ara macao), brilliantly plumed birds whose geographic origins lie at least 1000 km southeast in the humid lowlands of Mexico. Archaeological and historic records indicate that these birds were prized for their many cosmological associations, the multi-colored feathers which were widely traded and used in ceremonial attire, and their ability to mimic human speech. We use archaeological and isotopic investigations to infer the diet and geographic origin(s) of Paquimé's scarlet macaw population. We examine 29 scarlet macaw bone samples from Paquimé using radiogenic strontium isotope analysis. Our results demonstrate that Paquimé's scarlet macaw population was primarily raised locally, though Paquimé's inhabitants also acquired scarlet macaws from nearby Casas Grandes region settlements in Chihuahua and extra-regional locales that may have been as far away as their endemic homeland in Veracruz in eastern Mexico. Ultimately, our findings indicate that macaw aviculture at Paquimé was complex and not congruent with any single previously proposed model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101256
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Casas Grandes
  • Isotope biogeochemistry
  • Long-distance exchange, interregional interaction
  • Mesoamerica
  • Mexican Northwest
  • Paquimé
  • Scarlet macaw
  • Strontium isotopes
  • United States Southwest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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