They are members of the camelid family which originated in North America. Fossil llama footprints have been found in California and llama fossils have been found in Florida. The animals that migrated north over the Bering land bridge wandered into Asia and developed into the camels that we recognize today. The ones that migrated south became the lama family: alpacas, guanacos, llamas and vicuñas. The ancestors of the llamas were called Procamelus and lived in North America in the Miocene Era approximately twenty million years ago. About two million years ago they began migrating south.
That is the accepted theory, but have a look at this picture on the left which is a painting in the museum in Athens, Greece. Uri Yehuda, who used to have a very interesting web site, with all sorts of mysterious things on it, sent me the picture after he had seen a program about strange fossils found in Greece. The fossils look like llamas with long necks and camel jaws.
He says It has been suggested that the Greek Gods created these animals about 20,000 years ago. Is it possible?
I don’t know, Uri, but thanks for bringing it to our attention, maybe some of the visitors to this page will have some knowledge of the fossils and can pass on some more information to us.
Professor Lydia Chiappini who owned Heavens Gate Llama Farm was kind enough to send the following message on this:
Well Brian, yeah, they do look like llamas and I like the idea of the Greek gods creating llamas but actually those are horses from the Archaic (Geometric) Period of early Greek art.
Nowadays llamas are found all over the world but the species are native to the southern side of South America, mostly in Bolivia, Chile and Peru, with a few in Argentina and Ecuador.
Often people will assume that llamas are from Tibet but that is the home of the single L lama, the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader. The other animals that people seem to confuse with llamas are yaks who also live in Tibet, not South America.
The word lama describes the genus of llamas and is used by some organizations in North America to indicate that they encompass both llamas and alpacas.
The petroglyph on the left is from the Majes valley in Peru and shows a llama herder with his llamas, some of whom are in an enclosed pen. Today, in the Andes, llamas are often kept overnight in pens with low stone walls. Petroglyphs are pecked out on a stone face of a cliff.
The photo of the geoglyph on the right is part of a long series of geoglyphs near Pintados in Northern Chile. These llama figures are fairly large and were made by moving rocks from the surface of the desert exposing the lighter ground beneath. These are very ancient, no one seems to know how old they are.
Llamas were an important part of the Andean cultures and there are thousands of examples of pottery water containers which were made depicting llamas in various poses as shown in the grazing llama vessel in the photo on the left. This piece was made somewhere between 600 and 800 A.D.
As well as being pack animals and a source of fibre, fuel and meat, some llamas were offered as sacrifices to the sun. The drawings done in the 1500s by the Spanish chronicler Guamán Poma de Ayala show many of the everyday interactions by the Incas with their llamas.
The younger ones live in herds and an adult male will have a group of perhaps six females and he spends most of his time guarding his territory and driving off intruders, both male and female.
For thousands of years guanacos have traditionally been hunted for meat and hides. As they compete with sheep for grazing land the herd sizes were becoming dangerously low as a result of being killed by sheepherders. Chile has now introduced legislation so that the guanacos are protected in certain areas.
Over the centuries, hunters nearly exterminated the vicuña but they are now protected again.
Their padded foot does no damage when they are travelling which is one reason why they are becoming quite popular in North America for hiking.
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Brian and Jane Pinkerton
29343 Galahad Crescent, Mount Lehman, British Columbia, Canada V4X 2E4
Phone or Fax: (604) 856-3196 E-mail address: email@example.com
Mount Lehman Llamas Farm Page