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The Domestic Camelids (Cetartiodactyla: Camelidae) from the Middle Formative Cemetery of Topater 1 (Atacama Desert, Northern Chile): Osteometric and Palaeopathological Evidence of Cargo Animals



The Middle Formative Cemetery of Topater 1 (ca. 500 bc–100 ad), located in the oasis of Calama, Northern Chile, presents an unusually diverse array and quantity of funerary offerings, distributed among the graves of more than 200 individuals. Among the offerings are the remains of several mummified camelids and camelid skeletal elements, primarily distal extremities and artefacts made from the bones of these animals. Taking only the first skeletonised anterior and posterior phalanges of Topater 1 camelids, we conducted univariate and multivariate osteometric analyses in order to assign the sample to the appropriate taxonomic groups. At the same time, we described all osteopathologies registered for the extremities in the collection. Of the 45 phalanges measured, 30 were of similar or greater size than contemporary reference llamas. Fourteen of the 164 samples of bone extremities presented pathologies, most of them first phalanges. These abnormalities included different degrees of exostosis and, less commonly, eburnation and lipping. Considering both lines of evidence, we conclude that the llamas sacrificed at the Topater 1 cemetery correspond to, at least, two very large and robust cargo llama morphotypes. When living, these animals would have transported goods as part of the intense exchange activity that was taking place during this period in the region extending from the Pacific coast to Northwest Argentina and perhaps even beyond. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.