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Maya created a network for the trade in wild animals

Skull of a cougar from the royal burial in Kopan
N. Sugiyama

Mayan Indians, who lived in the V-IX centuries in the Copan Valley in the territory of modern Honduras, have created a whole network of wildlife trade, according to PLoS . The remains of animals, including jaguars, pumas, deer and crocodiles, which were apparently brought from different places and used for ritual sacrifices, or as meat and for the manufacture of skins, were found in the burials of high-ranking Maya.

Long before the Spanish conquistadors described the zoo of the Aztec leader Montezuma, the Mesoamerican Indians kept captive wild animals. In one of the largest cities in the region, the city of Teotihuacan, which existed until about 550 AD, brought a sacrifice predators: eagles, pumas, jaguars, rattlesnakes.

American researchers, led by Nawa Sugiyama of the George Mason University, analyzed the remains of animals from the Mayan graves in Copan . This city, located in the west of modern Honduras, in 426-822 was the capital of one of the Maya states, the kingdom of Shukuup. Here, in the burials of two rulers of the country, a shaman, and also under the altar where sacrifices were performed, the remains of numerous wild animals were found. Among them were skeletons or individual bones of jaguars, cougars, smaller felines, possibly ocelots and jaguarundi, deer, crocodiles, owls and spoonbills. One of the rulers and shaman lived in the first half of the fifth century, the second ruler – around 625-695, and the altar was built in the second half of the VIII century.

The researchers analyzed the ratios of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen isotopes in the remains of crocodile, jaguar, puma, owl, spoonbill, three reindeer and several unidentified species of felines, as well as domestic turkey from different burials and from under the altar. The ratios of carbon and nitrogen isotopes make it possible to determine the ration of the animal, including whether it was fed with corn, which was grown by Indians, as well as fish and seafood. By the ratio of oxygen isotopes, it is possible to find out from which locality the animal originated.

According to the results of isotope analysis, it turned out that some felines, including cougar and jaguar, were abundantly fed corn (and not animals that were given corn). In this case there were no traces of captivity in skeletons of animals. Other cats fed, mostly game. The ratio of oxygen isotopes showed that some animals were brought to Copan not only from the surrounding valley city, but also from other parts of the country.

As the authors of the article write, the results are quite understandable: Maya used wild animals for both eating and dressing skins, and for ritual purposes, when the cat was sacrificed. Moreover, probably, they had a whole trading network, which allowed to catch and transport animals to different parts of the country.

It is believed that the Indians of Mesoamerica used wild animals extensively, because they practically had no home, only turkeys and dogs. But recently it turned out that the Indians were breeding parrots for the sake of feathers, with which they decorated headgear.

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