Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Wow! A Mesoamericanist Agrees with Llama and Alpaca – Part III

Continuing from the previous two posts regarding Wade E. Miller and Matthew Roper’s article about what animals could the Jaredite Cureloms and Cumoms have been. In the previous posts, we listed all the different animals Miller and Roper presented and why none of them would have been applicable to Ether’s description of the two “unknown” animals they brought with them in their barges to the Land of Promise, and also their choice of the llama as one of the Jaredites animals. However, they seem to have forgotten that the alpaca was a separate species from the llama and went astray looking for a second “unknown” animal, specifically looking at the mastodon and the gomphothere. 
Alpaca have different fiber for a variety of textile opportunities
    Continuing here with the value of the alpaca as a unique animal and one almost killed to extinction by the ignorant and uncaring Spanish conquistadors. Today, for many centuries among the Peruvians before, and to a degree after the Spanish invasion, the alpaca served a most valuable commodity among the ancients.
    Alpaca fleece, known as the "Fiber of the Gods," is the natural fiber harvested from an alpaca. It is light or heavy in weight, depending on how it is spun. It is a soft, durable, luxurious and silky natural fiber. While similar to sheep’s wool, it is warmer, not prickly, and has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Alpaca is naturally water-repellent and difficult to ignite. Huacaya, an alpaca that grows soft spongy fiber, has natural crimp, thus making a naturally elastic yarn well-suited for knitting. Suri has no crimp and thus is a better fit for woven goods. Alpaca fleece is made into various products, from very simple and inexpensive garments made by the aboriginal communities to sophisticated, industrially made and expensive products such as suits. The preparing, carding, spinning, weaving and finishing process of alpaca is very similar to the process used for wool.
    A thousand years before the Great Pyramid of Giza was completed, the ancient ancestors of the Peruvians were measuring their wealth by the numbers of alpacas they owned and were enjoying the finest garments woven from the fleece of their great alpaca herds. 
    Two thousand years before King David united the tribes of Israel, members of early Peruvian nobility were draping themselves in multicolored robes of gossamer sheen produced from alpaca fiber as they performed the mysterious rituals of their religion and culture. 
    Three thousand years before the Iliad and the Odyssey were transcribed from myth to parchment, the Peruvian people were expanding a thriving economy built in part on the commercial value of their treasured alpacas. Through man's first known use of selective breeding, they were producing alpacas whose quality of fleece was far superior to anything found in Europe and Asia. 
    Five hundred years before Rome began to build its empire and the warring barbarian tribes were flooding into the territories of Modern Europe, the alpaca was firmly entrenched as a major cornerstone in the early Peruvian empire which encompassed most of the western side of the South American continent.
And so it remained for another 2000 years, until the arrival in the New World of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century AD. As these soldiers of fortune began the orderly conquest and genocide of the Incan people, another casualty of their carnage was the little "humming sheep" so prized by their Incan enemy. The alpaca, which had been treasured for almost 4000 years as a source of highly prized fiber, was viewed only as a competitor for grazing lands allocated to the Spaniards' sheep, and therefore most useful as a source of meat. In fact, it is claimed that 90% of the alpaca herds were slaughtered by the Spanish conquistadors, who failed to see the value of alpaca fiber, preferring the merino sheep of their native Spain. The alpaca fell into obscurity and was all but forgotten, except by the native people who managed to preserve small numbers of alpacas and who were sustained by their alpaca herds. 
    However, in the middle 1800's, Sir Titus Salt of Saltaire, England, rediscovered this unique fiber. The newly industrialized English textile industry was at its zenith when Sir Titus began studying the unique properties of alpaca fleece. He discovered, for instance, that alpaca fiber was stronger than sheep's wool and that its strength did not diminish with fineness of staple. The alpaca textiles he fashioned from the raw fleece were soft, lustrous, and they soon began making their mark across Europe. Today, the center of the alpaca textile industry is in Arequipa, Peru; yarn and other products made from alpaca are sold primarily in Japan and Europe.
    This deliberate decimation of the great alpaca herds would have led to the eventual extinction of these magical little creatures except for one saving turn of fate. As the surviving Incans sought sanctuary in the highest reaches of their beloved Andes, they took a few of their most prized alpacas with them as they began their self-imposed exile into the mountains' protective mists. In the centuries that followed, a much more hardy and healthy alpaca developed in the stern and demanding lands above the clouds, where survival of the fittest was an absolute and constant reality.
    The curtain of history descended again on the alpaca and remained down until the mid 1800's, when Sir Titus "discovered" the remarkable fiber of this musical camelid and began promoting its use in the finest textile mills and fashion houses of Europe.
Even with this limited exposure to the outside world, the alpaca remained relatively unknown in the United States until 1983, when a small group of American importers began purchasing small numbers of these animals from select breeders in South America and bringing them to their farms as breeding stock. The best-kept secret in animal husbandry was hidden no longer! 
    Alpaca fiber will become even more prized as textile manufacturers, fashion designers, and the purchasing public become more enamored with this remarkable fleece. Alpaca fiber is used for many purposes, including making clothing such as bedding, hats, mitts, scarves, gloves, and jumpers, as well as rugs and toys, though sweaters are most common. Today, alpaca is considered luxurious to the touch, yet warm, cozy and lightweight. Garments made from alpaca fiber are quickly catching on as one of the world's best kept secrets in the clothing and fashion industry.
    In fact, while both camelids, the llama from wild guanaco, the alpaca domesticated descendants of the wild vicuñasone, the llama, is a beast of burden and used in numerous ways as already stated, while the alpaca is primarily useful for its fiber and meat.
    Though Miller and Roper correctly hit on the llama as one of the two Jaredite animals of great worth to man, their ignoring the companion species of alpaca is surprisingly unenlightened of them. These two species have been the mainstay of the early Peruvians for thousands of years, dating back into Jaredite times, and have been the most valuable animal ever known to have inhabited the Andean area of South America, as well as the entire Western Hemisphere. Today there are four camelids in South America, two wild and two domesticated: guanaco and vicuña, and the llama and alpaca. Genetic research indicates that the smaller domesticate, the alpaca (Lama pacos L.), is the domesticated version of the smaller wild form, the vicuña; while the larger domesticate llama (Lama glama L) is the domesticated form of the larger guanaco.
    All four of the camelids are grazers or browser-grazers, although they have different geographic distributions today and in the past. Historically and in the present, the camelids were all used for meat and fuel, as well as wool for clothing and a source of string for the use in the quipu and numerous other purposes—the Quechua word for dried camelid meat is ch’arki, from which, by way of Spanish, "charqui" comes our English term jerky
The earliest evidence for domestication of both llama and alpaca comes from archaeological sites located in the Puna region of the Peruvian Andes, at between 13,000-14,500 feet above sea level. At Telarmachay Rockshelter, located 105 miles northeast of Lima, faunal evidence from the long-occupied site traces an evolution of human subsistence related to the camelids.
    J. C. Wheeler has estimated that by 3800 years ago, the people at Telarmachay based 73% of their diet on camelids—that would have been about 1800 B.C., well within the Jaredite period.
    The point of all of this is that even Mesoamericanists can see the value of the llama and alpaca as the Jaredite anmimals, the curelom and cumom, which we have been discussing here for several years.