Maya traded dogs for religious rituals

The dogs that the Maya bred could be intended for sale at religious ceremonies. This conclusion was reached by archaeologists, having studied the isotopic composition of the remains of animals found during excavations of the ancient city of the Indians.

According to Ashley Sharp of the Smithsonian Institute for Tropical Research (Panama), the Maya traded animals 2,500 years ago – in the pre-classical period, and continued to do so during the heyday of their civilization. Such conclusions led scientists to make an isotope analysis of the remains discovered during the excavation of the ancient Mayan city of Seibal, located in Guatemala. Measuring the presence of certain isotopes (that is, atoms with the same number of protons, but different numbers of neutrons) in a living organism or its remains, one can determine its origin and features of nutrition.

Scientists have determined what plants eat animals, the remains of which were found in excavations. In the process of photosynthesis, different plants accumulate different isotopes of carbon. Most wild plants contain the C12 isotope. Plants that have traditionally been grown in this region (for example, corn or sugar cane) accumulate the C13 isotope. At the excavation, archaeologists have discovered two groups of animals. In the first group, the remains contained more C12, and the researchers concluded that these animals were fed mainly by wild plants. In the remains of the second was a lot of C13, so scientists suggested that these animals were domesticated, and therefore they were fed corn.

As a result of the work, the researchers found that Maya pets were, apparently, dogs, turkeys and cats. Most animal remains belong to the 700-350 gg. BC. The discovery of archaeologists is the earliest evidence of animal husbandry in the Maya tribes. Scientists suggest that the Indians used to also trade animals, and they participated in religious ceremonies.

Analysis of the isotopic composition of another element – strontium – helped scientists to determine where the animals found in the excavations were born. Most of the remains, according to isotopic analysis, belonged to the surroundings of the settlement of Seibal. However, the jaws of two dogs, found on the site of the ceremonial complex, contained strontium isotopes belonging to the region 250 kilometers from the settlement (on the territory of the modern city of Guatemala). This is the earliest evidence of the movement of pets in the region.