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The Story Of... Llamas

The only large mammals ever domesticated within the Ancient Americas, Llamas and alpacas are evolutionary cousins of the camel – although they lack the camel's signature hump. Like camels, llamas are intelligent and gregarious herbivores, but when aggravated, over-burdened or other-wise annoyed, they tend to hiss, spit, kick, and refuse to move, often lying down in protest.

Domesticated by Native Americans more than 5,000 years ago, llamas average around 4 feet tall at the shoulder. Primarily kept for their wool, they are also used for their meat, dung and hides.

Llamas are kept in paddocks and never brought indoors; nor are they milked for human consumption. This has meant that very few diseases have ever jumped species from llama to man, compared to the host of diseases which Europeans inherited from living in close proximity to their livestock.

The llama’s high tolerance for thirst, and appetite for a broad range of plants, made it key to Native American transport and communication throughout the Andes. Although llamas can average between fifteen and twenty miles a day, llamas lack the strength of oxen, camels and horses,so they’re unable to carry adult humans or pull any kind of machinery. Even if the Inca had discovered the wheel, no llama could ever have pulled a cart larger than a wheelbarrow.

At the time of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, llamas were used in great numbers to transport silver ore from the Inca mining network. One Spanish observer guessed that as many as 300,000 llama were used to export the produce of one particular mine (Potosi, in modern Bolivia), alone.

But geography had ensured that the continent's only load-bearing mammal remained isolated, known only to the indigenous peoples of the Andes. The inhospitable jungles of the Panamanian isthmus and the deserts of South America ensured that no llamas – and no Inca – had ever reached the Aztecs, or beyond.

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- Wheat
- Rice
- Corn
- Sorghum

- Cattle
- Goats
- Sheep
- Pigs
- Llamas
- Horse
- Zebra

- Smallpox
- Malaria

- Steel
- Writing

- Latitude and Climate
- Shape of the Continents
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