Religious Deception in the New World

The ride of the fourth horseman

Revelation 6:7-8 tells us this about the fourth seal: “When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him.”

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary says this about the color of the fourth horse: “ ‘Pale’ (chloros) denotes a yellowish green, the light green of a plant, or the paleness of a sick person in contrast to a healthy appearance.” Put bluntly, this horse is the color of death.

In Jesus’ parallel prophecy in Matthew 24, He explained that in the wake of religious deception, war and famine would come “pestilences” or disease epidemics (Matthew 24:7).

The Old Testament Revelations has triggered many an imaginative mind to take it to mean whatever the reader wants it to mean. Artists have created wonderful interpretations of what the vile horsemen might look like, such as this one:

Where this blog is concerned, I am using the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse as the closest tale which has been told for thousands of years to express how I think those victims of the invaders from Europe must have felt when they encountered them.

As the explorers, sailors, conquistadores, Friars and their host of animals, stepped off their ships onto land, not only did they look frightening but they also carried unseen threats. These were diseases to which the Europeans were accustomed over centuries. One of these was Smallpox. The earliest evidence of small pox disease dates to the 3rd century BCE in Egyptian mummies. Nobody knows its origin.

The disease historically occurred in outbreaks. The initial symptoms of the disease included fever and vomiting. This was followed by formation of sores in the mouth and a skin rash. Over a number of days the skin rash turned into characteristic fluid-filled bumps with a dent in the center. The bumps then scabbed over and fell off, leaving scars. The disease was spread between people or via contaminated objects. Millions have died from smallpox and only in recent times has a successful vaccine become available to protect some of the people in the world from it.

Image of victim of smallpox

As more Europeans moved into the Americas, more natives grew sick and died. The Europeans would recognise the illness, the natives would be overwhelmed by its horrific symptoms. 

They had no resistance to these foreign diseases. Millions of indigenous peoples across the Americas were extinguished so suddenly due to violence, disease, slavery and exploitation. 

The consequent lack of slave labour created a need to continue the exploitation of resources by the new ‘owners’.

Spain’s monarchs had broadly granted colonists dominion over Amerindian subjects, compelling native populations to pay tribute, often in the form of labor. The latter practice was largely an extension of the medieval encomienda, a quasi-feudal system in which Iberian Christians who had performed valuable military service were granted authority to govern people and resources in lands conquered from Iberian Muslims. Also, despite their objection to a trans-Atlantic slave trade of Amerindians, the Crown permitted their outright enslavement and sale within the Americas. During the first half of the sixteenth century, Spanish colonists conducted raids throughout the Caribbean, bringing captives from Central America, northern South America, and Florida back to Hispaniola and other Spanish settlements. Two of the principal arguments used to justify the enslavement of Amerindians were the concepts of “just war” (i.e. the notion that anyone who refused to accept Christianity, or rebelled against Spanish rule, could be enslaved), and “rescate” or ransom (the idea that Amerindians held captive by other groups could be purchased in order to Christianize them, and to rescue them from captors who were allegedly cannibals). 

Thus the slave trade began, and imported slaves from Spanish territories began to arrive by the boat load to replace the millions of Amerindians who had perished. They came from West Africa or Spanish colonies such as the Philippines.

From 1492 through the the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th century the Spanish Empire expanded built on the wealth and power gained from exploiting the New World. Queen Isabella pushed this moment in history into a lasting legacy. The crown’s main source of wealth was from gold and silver mined in Mexico and Peru. The empire reached the peak of its military, political and economic power under the Spanish Habsburgs, through most of the 16th and 17th centuries, and its greatest territorial extent under the House of Bourbon in the 18th century.

The intermingling of slaves stolen from their homelands to work for colonialists on land they secured under a legal framework created by the Spanish monarchy, set up generations of genetic mixtures which are difficult to disentangle today. Nevertheless, work continues on that task.

Andreas Morenos research in 2013 has studied genetic influences linked to medical aspects. For example, he and his team found:

Caribbean populations have a higher proportion of African ancestry compared to mainland American populations, a result of admixture during and after the Atlantic slave trade. Surprisingly, the authors found that all samples tightly clustered with present day Yoruba samples from Nigeria rather than being dispersed throughout West Africa. However, because other analyses suggested that there might have been two major waves of migration from West Africa, the authors decided to analyze “old” and “young” blocks of African ancestry separately. This analysis revealed that “older” segments are primarily derived from groups from the Senegambia region of Northwest Africa, while “younger” segments likely trace to groups from the Gulf of Guinea and Equatorial West Africa (including the Yoruba).”

Citation: Moreno-Estrada A, Gravel S, Zakharia F, McCauley JL, Byrnes JK, et al. (2013) Reconstructing the Population Genetic History of the Caribbean. PLoS Genet 9(11): e1003925. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003925

Paper author Andres Moreno-Estrada is a research associate in the lab of Carlos Bustamante. 

The consequences of the Spanish invasion, and ensuing other European land grabs, has been so immense, it is hard for us to grasp looking back through biased historical documents.

It is my belief that this exemplifies the prophesy of the Revelations and that we, as humans, could have taken a different path than the one pursued since 1492. But our mental illness through religious fervour leading to warring tendencies, our land grab greed, our pursuit of power and criminal acts against fellow humans over the previous centuries all culminated to that point in history to ensure this catastrophe would occur. It was the perfect storm.

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Terror dogs arrival in the New World

Conquistadors, the never to be forgotten military cultivated under the rule of a fanatical  Portuguese Queen, Isabella, and her less fanatical Spanish husband, Ferdinand, had developed fighting skills empassioned by the Monarchs’ religious fervour to ‘cleanse’ the Iberian Peninsula of all peoples found to be of non-Catholic faith. When Colombus set off to find India, he found the New World instead and so native people were called Indians.  The war crazed gangs of Conquistadores were sent in the ships following the sailings of Colombus, to support the work of the Franciscan friars in their efforts to convert the Indians to Catholicism. They also ensured they could bring back all the gold, silver and others precious items which would create the wealthiest country in the world for the next century.

Empty coffers, due to fighting endless wars, had left the Queen Isabella and husband Ferdinand exposed to enemies beyond their borders. If those enemies were not Catholics, then all the more reason to be rid of them! This would provide a circular argument to maintain a war footing for the spiritual reward in the after life. The Inquisition had been instigated by Queen Isabella just prior to Colombus setting sail. The idea of converting non believers through any means gave the Inquisitor General full range of his sadistic tendencies. The conquistadores saw themselves as supporting the conversion process wherever they found non believers. Franciscan friars accompanied them to use their techniques to persuade and ‘enlighten’ the non believers.

It is widely believed that during Christopher Columbus’ first expedition to the New World, San Salvador Island was the first land he sighted and visited on 12 October 1492; he named it San Salvador after Christ the Saviour. Columbus’ records indicate that the native Lucayan inhabitants of the territory, who called their island Guanahani, were “sweet and gentle”. Every culture he and others he brought with him, did not appreciate those people in their own right. They were merely observed as ‘simple’, ‘heathens’ and maybe sources of wealth which could be stolen and taken back to Spain. Another Island nearby was Haiti, which he named Hispaniola. I have written earlier blogs about the different cultures on these two islands of the indigenous and fascinating populations. 

So it was that not only were the ships coming into the Caribbean and then sailing to release explorers and conquistadores to the lands of South America, but they also brought with them their culture, fervent religion, livestock and military experience.

Amongst the weapons they brought were their dogs.

This next extract is from ‘Dogs of the Conquistadors’

Posted on January 12, 2019

Dogs of the Conquistadors

Image of dogs brought by the conquistadors.

When Christopher Columbus returned to the New World in 1493, Don Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca, in charge of supplying the expedition, included 20 mastiffs and greyhounds as weapons. The Spanish destroyed the Guanches of the Canary Islands by use of war dogs. Later the dogs fought the Moors. The mastiffs, which could weigh as much as 250 pounds and stand three feet high at the shoulder, were brute attackers, while the greyhounds were speedy and made lightning-quick strikes, often trying to disembowel their opponent. In May 1494 the Jamaican natives did not look friendly, so Columbus ordered an attack. One war dog caused absolute terror, so Columbus in his journal wrote that one dog was worth 10 soldiers against Indians. During the Haiti campaign, opposed by a huge native force, all 20 dogs fought at the Battle of Vega Real in March 1495. Alonso de Ojeda, who had fought with them against the Moors, commanded the dogs. He released the dogs shouting, “Tomalos!” (basically, “Sic ’em!”). An observer said that in one hour, each dog had torn apart at least a hundred natives. The island was taken largely by terror of the dogs. Later conquistadores including Ponce de Leon, Balboa, Velasquez, Cortes, De Soto, Toledo, Coronado, and Pizarro all used war dogs.

Some Spaniards started a cruel practice called “la monteria infernal” (“the hellish hunting”) or “dogging,” setting the dogs on the chiefs or other important people in tribes. When their leaders were torn to shreds, the tribes often surrendered. To increase the ferocity of attacks, some conquistadores fed the dogs on the flesh of natives. One Portuguese fellow “had the quarters of Indians hanging on a porch to feed his dogs with.” The dog Amigo helped in the conquest of Mexico. Bruto, belonging to Hernando de Soto, assisted in the conquest of Florida. When Bruto died, the Spaniards kept it secret, because the natives feared him so much.”

This technique for using dogs in war had been common throughout Europe since hundreds of years before Christianity emerged as a reason for war.

The dogs used by Roman soldiers were probably a similar breed used by the Spanish and Portuguese. The Molossian.

Image of Molossian war dog with Roman soldier

Image of sculpture of Molossian dog

“Most scholars agree that the Molossus originated with the Molossis people in the mountainous regions of north west Ancient Greece and southern Albania. The Molossians were renowned for their vicious hounds, which were used by Molossian shepherds of Epirus in the mountains of northwestern Greece to guard their flocks. The poet Grattius, a contemporary of Ovid, writes “…when serious work has come, when bravery must be shown, and the impetuous War-god calls in the utmost hazard, then you could not but admire the renowned Molossians so much.” Ref: Grattius, Cynegeticon, 179ff

Image of Spaniards overwhelming the native population. 

There were millions of natives living in these lands, so removed from all the battles fought in mainland Europe. This would be like the arrival of the Hounds of Hell unleashed with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

The First Horseman

“And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.” – Revelation 6:2

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First split hooved pigs in the Americas

Image of wild boar in present day Hong Kong
The species that make up the family Suidae are known as the pigs. All species in this family originated in Old World Europe, Africa, and Asia. 

Almost all of these pigs were domesticated from Sus scrofa, otherwise known as the wild boar, (also known as the “wild swine”, “common wild pig”, or simply “wild pig”) is a suid native to much of the Palearctic, as well as being introduced in the Nearctic, Neotropic, Oceania, the Caribbean islands, and Southeast Asia. The modern pig is the result of thousands of years of human activity at the same time as natural selection. 

Above: Image of map showing zoological classification Palearctic. 

For the purposes of this blog, the map of the Palearctic area is relevant to the Iberian Peninsula, on which I have run a theme over many previous blogs.

Since the pig was domesticated over thousands of years, beginning around 9000 years ago, by the time Colombus arrived in the Bahamas, pigs were often carried on ships and ran along with invading armies as a source of fresh meat when needed.

They belong to the order of domestic artiodactyls. Keeping them fattened reduces their inherited mobility and dulls their usually bright brains. Research has shown pigs to be smarter than dogs.

As pigs can eat almost anything (omnivores) and survive in most environments and climate conditions, they are easy to maintain and transport. Thus they have become a source of food in most parts of the world.

However the Jewish religion forbids the eating of pork.

I found this explanation, which I have edited:

Why Do Jews Not Eat Pork or Crab?


I was wondering, why can’t Jews eat pork or crab?


In the Bible……..two requirements for an animal to be kosher (fit to eat) for a Jew: Animals must chew their cud and have split hooves. Pigs do have split hooves but do not chew their cud, so we cannot eat pig meat and its derivatives. In the seafood department, we may only eat fish that have both fins and scales.

Here is a translation of the original Divine command, from Deuteronomy, Chapter 14:8-10:

And the pig, because it has a split hoof, but does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You shall neither eat of their flesh nor touch their carcass.

These you may eat of all that are in the waters; all that have fins and scales, you may eat.

But whatever does not have fins and scales, you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.

……….there are moral lessons we derive from them.

Here are several given:

The birds and many of the mammals we do not eat are predators, while the permitted animals are not. We are commanded not to eat those animals possessive of a cruel nature, so that we should not absorb these qualities into ourselves.

The commandment refines the person and instills self-discipline.

Chani Benjaminson”

Jews and Muslims share their rejection of pork.

Throughout history, many nations have rejected Jews and Muslims, and they seem to be partial to eating pork. At the time of Colombus (it is now thought he was a Genoese Jew, but concealing the fact) Jews were persecuted in the Iberian Peninsula, though had been accepted centuries earlier when the Moors (Muslims) occupied much of the Peninsula. 

There is no doctrinal reason for Christians to avoid any kind of food.

Thus it was that the native pagan people of the Bahamas and later much of Latin America were invaded by fervent Christians. They were also presented with pigs, a creature which had never stepped a split hoof on their soil.

As animal diseases can cross to humans, such as swine flu, it is imperative to ensure health and safety when caring for animals.

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The Americas: the origin of wild turkey

Birds descend from a group of dinosaurs called theropods (from Greek meaning “beast feet”). The Turkey and chicken have the closest overall chromosome pattern to their dinosaur ancestor, possibly Tyrannosaurus Rex!

After the dinosaurs were gone, mammals and birds were able to become more diverse and occupy all the areas that the dinosaurs had previously dominated.

Image of Avian chart

T. rex belongs to a theropod subcategory known as coelurosaurs (“hollow-tailed lizards”).

Above, skeleton of a Turkey next to the mighty T.Rex.

Tyrannosaurus lived during what is referred to as the Lancian faunal stage (Maastrichtian age) at the end of the Late Cretaceous. Tyrannosaurus ranged from Canada in the north to at least New Mexico in the south of Laramidia.  During this time Triceratops was the major herbivore in the northern portion of its range, while the titanosaurian sauropod Alamosaurus “dominated” its southern range. Tyrannosaurus remains have been discovered in different ecosystems, including inland and coastal subtropical, and semi-arid plains.

The wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) evolved more than 11 million years ago. 

In 2014, Professor Griffin (University of Kent) discovered from his research that the: ‘Bird genomes are distinctive in that they have more tiny microchromosomes than any other vertebrate group. These small packages of gene-rich material are thought to have been present in their dinosaur ancestors.

‘We found that the chicken has the most similar overall chromosome pattern to its avian dinosaur ancestor.’

The research, which formed part of a vast study carried out over the past four years by the international Avian Phylogenomics Consortium, involved the analysis of the whole genome structure of the chicken, turkey, Pekin duck, zebra finch and budgerigar.

Disentangling the ancestral line of the Turkey from other birds back to a particularly relevant dinosaur is not easy. There is the fact that Tyrannosaurus rex and Meleagris gallopavo share a surprising skeletal characteristic: they both have a wishbone. Then there is Velociraptor,  a one-metre tall, two-legged predator that lived more than 70m years ago. Equipped with large claws on each leg, it was a close relative to the earliest birds. In a study of the fossilised forearms of velociraptors found in Mongolia in 1998, palaeontologist Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History found “quill knobs” – bumps where the feathers used for flight in modern birds are anchored to the bone with ligaments. 

“The more that we learn about these animals the more we find that there is basically no difference between birds and their closely related dinosaur ancestors like velociraptor,” said Professor Norell.

“Both have wishbones, brooded their nests, possess hollow bones, and were covered in feathers. If animals like velociraptor were alive today our first impression would be that they were just very unusual looking birds.”

Because of velociraptor’s relatively short forelimbs, the feathers would not have helped it to fly.

Known more formerly as the furcula, the wishbone is a flexible v-shaped bone that fuses the collarbones at the sternum. For birds, the wishbone is critical to flight: it acts as a spring that stores and releases energy generated by contractions in the breast muscles during flapping.

T. rex never went airborne — however, it did rely on its wishbone for structural support.

Wild turkeys, who live all over areas of the Americas, soar up to roost in trees at night. Some accounts clock them at 55 MPH (in short bursts). For reference, T. rex was a runner, and ran 18 MPH on average — about as fast as a polar bear today. 

Thousands of years later, but long before the Europeans arrived, the Americas were so familiar with wild turkeys that even this small clay whistle was beautifully created long before Christianity.

Columbus will have seen the turkeys amongst other amazing sights, when he landed in the Bahamas, and no doubt reported eating them amongst many other amazing foods never before digested by Europeans. To the natives they considered these common produce in their homeland.

9 years after Columbus discovered the New World, King Ferdinand II of Aragon – acting through the bishop of Valencia – ordered Miguel de Passamonte to bring a tom and a hen back to Spain for breeding. There is no written evidence that this plan to breed turkeys did succeed. But they became fashionable in Italy where it has been recorded Alessandro Geraldini, Bishop of Santa Domingo, presented his friend, Cardinal Lorenzo Pucci, with a pair in 1520, for example, he gave instructions that they were to be admired for their rarity rather than eaten and for a brief while thereafter they became the latest fashion accessory in Renaissance Rome. No self-respecting cardinal thought their palace gardens complete without a few birds strutting around the place. Cardinal Salviati, a member of a particularly notable Florentine family, was especially famous for his flock of turkeys.

By the middle of the 16th century the turkey became a delicacy. As Francois Rabelais’ mention of them in his Pantagruel (1548) suggests, turkey was initially an ‘elite’ foodstuff. In 1549, for example, Catherine de’ Medici had a feast of 70 turkeys served to her guests at a Parisian banquet, while her son, Charles IX, was gratified to be presented with a gift of a dozen tasty birds by the people of Amiens at about the same time. But before long turkey had become the food of choice for the masses, too, although not without some social upset. In 1557 the Patricians of Venice were so concerned about the widespread consumption of this ‘elite’ dish that sumptuary laws were passed to restrict it to the nobility.

In 1560 laws had to be passed to prevent turkeys bred for slaughter from being allowed to roam through the streets of London and it was amid such turkey-based chaos that the bird began to emerge as an ‘aspirational’ staple of the Christmas dinner table.

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Significance of horses and humankind

Horses, of the family Equidae, evolved over a geologic timescale of 50 million years. The horse belongs to the order Perissodactyla (odd-toed ungulates), the members of which all share hooved feet and an odd number of toes on each foot, as well as mobile upper lips and a similar tooth structure. This means that horses share a common ancestry with tapirs and rhinoceroses.

Horses, tapirs and rhinoceroses image from

The perissodactyls arose in the late Paleocene, less than 10 million years after the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. This group of animals appears to have been originally specialized for life in tropical forests, but whereas tapirs and, to some extent, rhinoceroses, retained their jungle specializations, modern horses are adapted to life on drier land, in the much harsher climatic conditions of the steppes. Other species of Equus are adapted to a variety of intermediate conditions.

Perissodactyla, as we know it today, is a small order of hoofed mammals, containing 17 Recent species in three families: Equidae (horses), Tapiridae (tapirs), and Rhinocerotidae (rhinoceroses). Despite being such a small order, the odd-toed ungulates have a wide distribution, being found across the Ethiopian, Palearctic, Oriental, and Neotropical zoogeographic regions. Two species have been domesticated – the horse (Equus caballus) and the donkey (Equus asinus); feral populations of these two species have been established across the globe, (re)expanding this order’s influence to the Nearctic and Australasian regions.

Perissodactyls were once much more diverse, including the enormous horned brontotheres, the bizarre browsing, clawed chalicotheres, and the largest land mammal of all time, the Eocene Indricotherium (formerly known as Baluchitherium). It stood five meters (over sixteen feet) tall at the shoulder.

Eocene Indricotherium

Image of horned brontotheres

Although Brontotheres resembled modern Rhinos, They were more closely related to Horses. Unlike the horns of Rhinos, their horns did not have keratin, and were side by side instead of front to back. When Brontotheres first appeared, They looked like early Horses (such as Hyracotherium).  

Another extinct Equus family  is the American Zebra, roaming the Idaho area around 3 million years ago.

Image of skeleton of American Zebra

In fact in their earlier stages of evolution, these two Families were often mistaken for each other. As each Family evolved, Horses lost their three toes whilst Brontotheres retained theirs.

Brontotheres roamed throughout North America. They encountered the volcanic Rocky Mountains. Many were killed by volcanic ash, and later became fossils. Millions of years later, their bones would emerge after heavy rains.

Domestication of Horses

Being sure where horses were first domesticated is still a mystery. But Ludovic Orlando along with 120 other researchers, molecular archaeologists from France’s CNRS research agency in Toulouse have made a major attempt to unravel the thread back through the centuries. Together they have amassed the world’s largest collection of horse DNA—some of it as old as 42,000 years. Now, after several years of intensive analysis, they still do not know when and where modern horses got their start. But he and his colleagues have a much clearer understanding of how humans shaped equine evolution, and they’ve uncovered two previously unknown lineages of horses: an ancient equine that roamed what is now Portugal and Spain some 4000 years ago, and another that lived in Siberia in Russia around the same time. Since then, both lineages have gone extinct, and there are no traces of them left in modern horse DNA.

Orlando also discovered that after the Arabs expanded into Europe in the seventh century, Arabian stallions outproduced males from other breeds, leading to their Y chromosome being present in all modern horses today. Thus, when the Arab stallion was introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors in 711 AD they brought with them the magnificent genetics of the Arab stallion. This has led to the famous Andalusian which has been recognized as an individual breed since the 15th century, and its conformation has changed very little over the centuries

The African Moors army, under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from northern Africa and invaded the Iberian peninsula ‘Andalus’ (Spain under the Visigoths). 800 years later, the Conquistadores would ride their Andalusian horses brought on their Spanish ships to the New World and wreak terror amongst the natives, who had never seen a horse before.

The horse has been integral to the battle victories around the world, to the building of the early industrial society and transportation in the most difficult of terrains. They have also been fed to people as horse meat when no longer thought useful to humans.

Intense breeding of horses has increased speed, strength and endurance but has led to genetic damage too. Orlando’s work, he says “really illustrates that horses some 1000 years ago and horses now are two different creatures”

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Camels of Asia originated in North America

The landmass, which is now known as North America, evolved to something like its current “incarnation less than 200 million years ago. Before then, the continent was called Laurentia on its journey back and forth across the equator, as it joined and was separated from supercontinents. Over billions of years, whether Laurentia or North America, the continent took its form through many spectacular collisions and massive rifts”. (See pictorial journey

45 or 50 million years ago, researchers have established from fossils found in the White River Badlands, Pennington Co., South Dakota, USA that there existed the earliest known North American camel genus, they named Protylopus and it was the size of a rabbit. 

Drawing of Protylopus

This evolved into Camelops, the last species of North American camel, which died out where it had begun, but reappeared in Asia where we mostly associate the camel. The American paleontologist Joseph Leidy (1823-1891) first described the species in 1854.

Camelops lived between 3.6 million and 11,700 years ago, and roamed from Alaska to Mexico. By now they were larger than humans,  perhaps seven feet tall at the shoulder and weighed around 1800 pounds. This is slightly larger than the modern dromedaries that stand between 5.5 and 6.5 feet tall and weigh between 660 and 1320 pounds. It had elongated spines on its anterior back which suggest it had a single hump like the dromedary.

Image of Camelops and skeleton

In 2015, a team of US and Canadian researchers led by Peter Heintzman of the University of California Santa Cruz (USSC) analyzed the DNA found in Camelops fossils and compared it to that of living camel species. The researchers found more similarities between the prehistoric camel and the Old World camels than between Camelops and the South American camelids. The Camelops and camelids are in the class camelidae.

Image of feet of camelidae

Image of Bactrian camel

Image of Dromedary Camel

Although the Bactrian camel and dromedary are large, typically arid-desert-adapted mammals, alpacas are adapted to plateaus. 

South American camelids

Image of present day, mostly hybridised camelids

Some would say “The Great American Interchange happened three million years ago when volcanic activity formed the Isthmus of Panama that connected South and North America. As the two continents had been separated for over 200 million years, very different animals had evolved within them. Animals native to South America included porcupines, armadillos and some marsupials including the ancestors of the Virginia opossum. The North American camel was among the animals that headed south. The American camel’s descendants became the guanacos, vicuñas, llamas, and alpacas.”

But the DNA research cited above seems to suggest the origin of camelids is maybe not quite so certain, more likely still a mystery.

It is currently considered that the two wild forms, the larger guanaco (Lama guanicoe) and the daintier vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) diverged from a common ancestor some two million years ago, an event unrelated to much more recent domestication. Genetic research indicates that the smaller alpaca (Lama pacos L.), is the domesticated version of the smaller wild form, the vicuña; while the larger llama (Lama glama L) is the domesticated form of the larger guanaco. Physically, the line between llama and alpaca has been blurred as a result of deliberate hybridization between the two species over the last 35 years or so.

Dr Jane Wheeler, a long time researcher of the subject, says results indicating that the alpaca descends from the vicuña and the llama from the guanaco, leads to a more correct classification of these forms: Vicugna pacos and Lama glama respectively, and that such extensive hybridization has occurred that only 20% of alpacas and 60% of llamas are genetically pure. This all adds to the mystery of the origins of these amazing animals, so suited to the rocky terrain of the Andes.

Image of Telarmachay Rockshelter, near Lima, Peru

This amazing ancient site built by hunter/gatherer’s around 9000 – 7000 years ago was where llamas were herded and slaughtered for meat. Dr Jane Wheeler has researched this place and documented her findings.

Within a couple of thousand years, the people had domesticated alpacas and llamas using a predominant herding economy based on llama and alpaca.

Research has estimated that by 3800 years ago, the people at Telarmachay based 73% of their diet on camelids.

The Quechua (the state language of the Inca) word for dried camelid meat is ch’arki, Spanish “charqui,” and the etymological progenitor of the English term jerky.

In addition, the animals were all used as fuel, as well as wool for clothing and a source of string for making quipu and baskets. 1,400 years ago, they were kept in herds on the northern coasts of Peru and Ecuador. In particular, the Inca used llamas to move their imperial pack trains into southern Colombia and central Chile.

Image of Quipu

The Spanish conquest had a disastrous effect on both llama and alpaca population.  The history of the Andes and the Inca before the Spanish Conquest may be told in llama poop:

Researchers have found that in a small, dried-up lake in highland Peru, mites that ate these creatures’ feces closely track major historical events through their population growth, including the rise and fall of the Incan Empire. In certain kinds of environments, this new method of peering back in time might be more accurate than another common one: using dung-dwelling fungal spores to track environmental conditions in the past.

The ancient lake in question, called Marcacocha, is now a wetland high in the Andes, near the Incan city of Ollantaytambo. But before it disappeared about 200 years ago, it was a small pool surrounded by grassland and a popular stop for Incan llama caravans. Thousands of llamas carrying trade goods such as salt and coca leaves marched through the basin, drank from the lake, and defecated en masse. That dung washed into the lake, where it was eaten by oribatid mites, a half-millimeter-long spider relative that lived in the lake.

The more llamas that passed through Marcacocha, the more poop the mites had to eat, and the larger their populations could grow. When the mites died, they sank into the lake mud, preserved where Alex Chepstow-Lusty, a paleoecologist at the University of Sussex in Brighton, U.K., found them in a sediment core centuries later.

When Chepstow-Lusty counted the number of mites in each layer of the core, he found that their population boomed when the Incan Empire dominated the Andes from 1438 C.E. to 1533 C.E. But after the Spanish arrived, the number of mites in the core plummeted. That’s because so many of the Indigenous people and their animals died during and after the conquest of the empire, Chepstow-Lusty says. Although the mite population rose again once European cows and pigs moved in and started to poop around the lake, it dropped off around 1720 C.E., when a smallpox epidemic swept through the area.”(see

In the next blog I will look at the origin of horses. Strange that horses apparently fear camels. The smell of the camel, according to Herodotus, alarmed and disoriented horses, making camels an effective anti-cavalry weapon when employed by the Achaemenid Persians in the Battle of Thymbra.

But the smell of Llamas did not seem to bother the horses which carried the conquistadors as they wreaked havoc amongst the unsuspecting Inca populations. If they had, perhaps it would have been a different story.

Image of camels in battle from

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Iridium and Outer Space: harnessing the elements for the advantaged

The element iridium is more likely to be found in Solar System asteroids than in the Earth’s crust. Yet a Yorkshire, England, chemist identified the element in 1803. He found it in the residues from the solution of platinum ores. His name was Smithson Tennant.

In 1801 Tennant worked with a colleague, Wollaston on a 186 kg mass of Columbia platinum ore (‘platina’) (3). In outline, platinum is soluble in aqua regia, a mixture of concentrated nitric and hydrochloric acids. When platina is dissolved in aqua regia, a highly coloured solution and a black residue are obtained, indicating the impurities in the ore. Tennant fused the insoluble residue with alkali at high temperature and dissolved the resulting cooled solid in water, producing a further black solid and a yellow solution. The yellow solution was probably a basic form of osmium tetroxide, OsO4. The black solid was further treated with hydrochloric acid, the solid produced was fused with caustic soda and further treatment with acid obtained red crystals. These are most likely to have been Na2[IrCl6]·nH2O. On heating these, a white powder of an unknown element was obtained, which was later identified as iridium. The Royal Society’s Copley Medal was awarded to Tennant on his 43rd birthday, 30th November 1804, to mark the intricate experimentation that lay behind these isolations.”From

Now chemists were able to list iridium in their table of elements with the symbol Ir and atomic number 77. Natural iridium often contains distinct amounts of Os,( osmiridium) Ru (ruthenosmiridium) or Pt.

The definition of iridium now incorporates old “osmiridium” and “ruthenosmiridium” mineral species (all have Ir as the dominant element).

Geologists of the 21st century could refer to iridium when exploring the impact of a massive asteroid, 65 million years ago, in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.  

They had located carbon cenospheres deposited when the asteroid hit next to a thin layer of the element iridium. The iridium-laden dust is believed to be the shattered remains of the 200-km-wide asteroid’s impact. 

Iridium is one of the rarest elements in Earth’s crust, with annual production and consumption of only three tonnes. It is found in meteorites and thus the mining of iridium is in areas which have historically been impacted by meteorites. It is also commercially obtained as a byproduct of nickel refining.

There was an asteroid event 2.15 million years ago. It has been named the ‘Eltanin asteroid collision’. After the research vessel Eltanin. An Eltanin impactor 4 km in diameter would have blown an initial cavity as deep as the ocean and 60 km wide into the South Pacific and delivered a 200–300 m high tsunami to the Antarctic Peninsula and the southern tip of South America 1200–1500 km away.
From Wikipedia:
The possible impact site was first discovered in 1981 as an iridium anomaly in sediment cores collected by the research vessel Eltanin, after which the site and impactor are named. Later studies were done by the vessel Polarstern. Sediment at the bottom of the five km (3 mi) deep ocean in the area had an iridium enrichment, a strong sign of extraterrestrial contamination. Possible debris from the asteroid is spread over an area of 500 km2 (190 sq mi). Sediments from the Eocene and Paleocene were jumbled and deposited again chaotically. Also mixed in were melted and fragmented meteorite matter. The area near the Freeden Seamounts over 20,000 km2 (7,700 sq mi) has a meteorite material surface density of 10–60 kg/m2 (2.0–12.3 lb/sq ft). Of this, 87% is melted and 13% only fragmented. This area is the region of the Earth’s surface with the highest known density of meteorite material coverage.

The disturbed sediment had three layers. The lowermost layer SU IV is a chaotic mixture of crumbled sediments in the form of a breccia. Above this is layer SU III consisting of layered sand deposited from turbulently flowing water. Above this is SU II layer with meteorite fragments and graded silt and clay that settled out of still but dirty water. “

Today, the much in demand platinum metals, the six platinum-group elements (PGMs) — platinum, palladium, rhodium, iridium, ruthenium and osmium — are mainly produced in South Africa, but they are across the globe in South America.

Platinum was first discovered in South America in 1735, and the rivers along the west coast of the continent are rich in the metal. In fact, all platinum came from South America until about 1820, when explorers found deposits in Russia and South Africa.

Discovery of the Wilkes Land mass crater, is a type of fingerprint indicating the impact of an asteroid four to five times larger than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.

The scientists who discovered the anomaly have suggested that this asteroid could be responsible for the worst mass extinction in our planet’s history, and may also have initiated the breakup of the supercontinent, Gondwana. See

This was when what we know today as South Africa and South America were once joined in the landmass named Gondwana. That today we have major platinum mining companies active in these now separate continents should therefore come as no surprise.

Iridium applications:

  • Since Ir is resistant to corrosion, it is mixed with osmium to produce alloys used in pen tips and compass bearings. 
  • Standard meter bars, crucibles and spark plug contacts prepared from a mixture of 10% iridium and 90% platinum have a high melting point and low reactivity 
  • Iridium-192, a radioactive isotope of the metal, is a potential therapy for prostate cancer Ir implants can be used in the radiotherapy of breast cancer
  • Iridium combined with platinum have been made into electrodes that may have the potential to manage hearing impairment.

Smithson Tennant would never have anticipated the applications for his identified iridium. But he was educated to a sufficient level to place him above the ‘masses’ in 1803. He would already be respected by those who would never receive an education, and he was contributing to the technological developments which we hail for their brilliance. We can always see a benefit to the quality of life for those in richer nations, but those benefits do not reach those at the brutal edge of making those benefits possible – those who constitute cheap labour. That can’t be right in the 21st century.

Miners striking in South African Platinum Mines

On 4 December 2007, the Union went on strike to protest working conditions in South Africa’s mines. The strike was spurred on by a rise in worker fatalities from 2006 to 2007, despite a government plan in October to reduce fatalities. Less than 5% of mineworkers came to work on that day.

It is estimated that between the 12th and the 14th of August about nine people (at least four miners, two police officers and two security guards) were killed in the area around Marikana – though there is conflicting reports on who killed whom during these dates.

On 16 August, police opened fire on a group of miners who had gathered on a hill near Nkaneng, at least 34 people were killed at Marikana, 78 were injured and 259 were arrested. The miners were carrying machetes and had refused a request to disarm. According to the Congress of South African Trade Unions, police had first used tear gas, water cannons and then used “live ammunition”. The killings have been labelled a massacre throughout the media with police, Lonmin and NUM itself being blamed.

In 2012, an image of some of the 12,000 miners sacked from the Anglo American Platinum mine near Rustenburg.

What this meant to the mining industry:

In South Africa 2014 –

The rage of those forced into cheap labour work involves longtime struggles and low pay faced by miners in South Africa whose economy depends on harnessing their energies to mine these precious minerals from the ground. A lot of human energy, for little pay and a tiny amount of ultimately refined platinum as a result.

Cheap labour is exploited globally to ensure expansion of corporate activities. Corporates have ensured they are backed by the laws of the land where they hold assets. These laws are backed by brutal modes of silencing opposition, or quiet coercion. The end game is to satisfy shareholders they will receive regular dividends. 

This is where we are in the 21st century. We are stuck in the wheel of ever decreasing returns as diminishing natural resources are ripped from the Earth to try and maintain the guise of momentum. We do not, with all our so called ‘superior intelligence’ to other life forms, seem to be able to step back from this old model of theft of natural resources. We could develop rejuvenating rather than destructive activities. We could enable all human beings to become independent contributors to this process. We seem to be using very little brain power to end the repetitive cycle of harm to the Planet and harm to each other.

Old habits die hard:

Lino cut of coal miners of 19th Century Britain

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