Southwest New Mexico ruins reveal ancient macaw breeding site

Scanning electron microscopy explores eggshell remains

August 29, 2023

A scarlet macaw grave at the Old Town Ruin at the ancient Mimbres site in Southwest New Mexico.

By Kimberly Wurth

As the tight beam of the scanning electron microscope focused on a tiny fragment of ancient eggshell, I immediately saw that one of the inner shell’s layers had been partially reabsorbed. This exciting news, which I shared with my research team, meant the egg was fertilized and developing its potential chick, a young scarlet macaw, some 900 years ago. But this discovery led to a pressing question: How did this happen, given that the bird is not native to Southwest New Mexico? 

I’m working with a team on a project that focuses on exploring whether the Indigenous people of the Mimbres culture at the Old Town Ruin site in southwestern New Mexico included individuals skilled in the care and breeding of these Central and South American birds. For reasons unclear to us (ceremonial feather use, as high-status belongings, sacrificial offerings or some combination of all) the intense, colorful birds were important enough to transport them far from their native woodlands, breed them here in New Mexico and later bury them within the community, along with their eggs.

Read the rest of the story as it appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican.