Ancient bones suggest Maya befriended a sacrificial spider monkey: ScienceAlert

According to a new study, 1,700 years ago, a female spider monkey was presented as a precious gift – and later brutally sacrificed – to strengthen ties between two great powers in pre-Hispanic America.

The newspaper, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), compared the offer of Mayan elites to Teotihuacan to the Chinese panda diplomacy that accompanied the normalization of Sino-American relations in the 1970s.

Using several techniques – including ancient DNA extraction, radiocarbon dating and chemical food analysis – the researchers were able to piece together the life and death of the primate, finding that she was likely between five and eight years old. when she was buried alive.

“It’s such an exciting time to do archeology because the methodology is finally here,” lead author Nawa Sugiyama of the University of California, Riverside, told AFP.

The work began with Sugiyama’s startling discovery in 2018 of the animal’s remains in the ruins of Teotihuacan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mexico’s arid highlands.

Spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) are not native to the high region, leaving Sugiyama with a riddle to solve: what was the animal doing there, who brought it, and why was it sacrificed?

The remains of the spider monkey were found outside the animal’s natural range. (Nawa Sugiyama)

Vital clues came from the location of the remains. Teotihuacan (pronounced tay-uh-tee-waa-kaan), which lies 48 kilometers northeast of Mexico City, was an important site of cultural exchange and innovation in classical Mesoamerica.

He is perhaps best known for the pyramids of the moon, Sun and Feathered Serpent. But there is growing interest in another monument called the Plaza of the Columns, a complex where neighboring Maya maintained a presence comparable to a modern embassy.

Parties, treasures and murals

The monkey’s skeletal remains were found in the complex alongside a golden eagle – an emblem of Mexico to this day – and surrounded by a collection of valuable artifacts, including obsidian projectile points, conch shells and gemstone artifacts.

More than 14,000 ceramic shards from a great feast were also discovered, along with a Mayan fresco depicting the spider monkey.

This, Sugiyama said, was further evidence of an exchange that took place at the highest levels and predated the subsequent rise of the Teotihuacan state and military involvement in Mayan cities in AD 378. time.

The results of chemical analyzes involving two canines that burst at different times in the monkey’s life indicate that before captivity, she lived in a humid environment and ate plants and roots.

After being captured and brought to Teotihuacan, her diet was closer to that of humans, including corn and chili peppers.

The spider monkey may have been “an exotic curiosity alien to the high altitudes of Teotihuacan,” Sugiyama and colleagues wrote, the fact that it was another primate possibly adding to its charisma and appeal.

In the end, the animal met a gruesome death: “The hands tied behind the back and the feet tied indicate live burial, common among human and animal sacrifices at Teotihuacan,” the authors wrote.

Although wild in today’s eyes, “we need to understand and contextualize these cultural practices…and what it meant to be able to give up what’s most precious to you,” Sugiyama said.

© Agence France-Presse

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *