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The Ancient Mayan Gift of a Spider Monkey
According to a new study, two important per-Hispanic American rulers strengthened their links by cruelly sacrificing a female spider monkey that had been given as a prized gift and sacrificed earlier
The unexpected discovery1 of the animal's remains at the Teotihuacan ruins in 2018, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the dry Mexican Highlands, marked the start of the project. If it’s not known, spider monkeys natural habitat is not in Teotihuacan. The authors challenge was to figure out what the animal was doing there, who transported it, and why it was sacrificed since spider monkeys aren't native to the elevated area.
Researchers were able to reconstruct the life and death of the primate by utilizing a variety of techniques, such as ancient DNA extraction, radiocarbon dating, and chemical food analysis. They discovered the primate was probably between five and eight years old when she was buried alive.
The location of the remains provided important hints. In Classic Mesoamerica, Teotihuacan, which is located northeast of Mexico City, was a significant center of cultural innovation and interchange. The pyramids of the Moon, Sun, and Feathered Serpent are among Teotihuacan's most famous structures.
But another monument dubbed Plaza of the Columns, a structure where the nearby Maya maintained a presence akin to a contemporary embassy, is gaining importance. This particular complex's ruins included a golden eagle and a number of priceless objects, including obsidian projectile points, conch shells, and valuable stone artifacts. The monkey's remains were also discovered there.
Moreover, in this complex is a Mayan mural showing the spider monkey and almost 14,000 ceramic shards from a lavish feast were found. This provided more proof of a high-level exchange that occurred before the Teotihuacan state's later emergence and military engagement in Maya communities by the year 378 CE.
Two canine teeth that sprouted at separate times during the monkey's existence were chemically analyzed, and the results showed that the monkey had previously lived in a humid environment and had eaten plants and roots. Her diet, which included corn and chili peppers, was more similar to that of humans once she was captured and taken to Teotihuacan. The spider monkey might have been an unusual novelty foreign to Teotihuacan's high altitudes.
The animal ultimately met a terrible end as its wrists were tied behind its back, indicating an en vivo burial, which was typical of Teotihuacan's human and animal sacrifices. We need to comprehend and contextualize these cultural practices—which appear primitive to modern eyes—as well as what it meant to be able to sacrifice significant things.
Sugiyama, N., Sugiyama, S., Cagnato, C., France, C. A. M., Iriki, A., Hughes, K. S., Singleton, R. R., Thornton, E., & Hofman, C. A. (2022). Earliest evidence of primate captivity and translocation supports gift diplomacy between Teotihuacan and the Maya. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 119(47), e2212431119. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2212431119