Human Ecology

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 89-104

First online:

Dung as an essential resource in a highland Peruvian community

  • Bruce WinterhalderAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, Cornell University
  • , Robert LarsenAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin
  • , R. Brooke ThomasAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, Cornell University

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The present paper examines the use of dung for two essential human resources, fuel and fertilizer, in a highland community of southern Peru. The limited energy availability and the poor soils of the region, primarily the result of high-altitude climate and topography, necessitate this practice. Alternatives to dung use are costly or unavailable. Grazing herbivores transform the widely dispersed puna grasses into a compact and easily gathered source of energy and nutrients. Native choice among available dungs corresponds to their qualities: sheep dung, richest in nutrients, is applied as fertilizer; llama and cattle dungs, each with a high caloric value, are burned as fuels. Dung use is interpreted as an energetically efficient response to the highland environment and as central to the subsistence pattern in the area.