The Ancient Maya Began Trading Dogs More Than 2,500 Years Ago

A new scientific study has shown how the ancient Maya traded live dogs more than 2,500 years ago from Ceibal in Guatemala. The study has found that dogs were a highly regarded gift that people loved showing off, thousands of years ago.

Archaeologists from the Smithsonian Institute analyzed the isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and strontium from the remains of dogs and other animals from the Mayan site in Ceibal (Guatemala) and found evidence that the Maya already bred dogs in the Middle Preclassic Maya Period (700-350 BC).

El Castillo-Chichen Itza. Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The study on the bones and teeth of the animals showed that they were transported from distant regions and had an important role in ceremonies.

The puppies were traded over distances of more nearly 200 kilometers, and experts say that Ceibal is one of the earliest ceremonial sites from the Mesoamerican civilization, researchers found.

Experts further note that most of the animal bones were discovered in ceremonial centers which means that the puppies were most likely owned by a high ranking official in the city, or may have been a very prestigious gift, thousands of years ago.

“Studies like this one are beginning to show that animals played a key role in ceremonies and demonstrations of power, which perhaps drove animal-rearing and trade,” said Ashley Sharpe, of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, in an article published in PNAS.

The central plaza of Ceibal. Image Credit: Ashley Sharpe.

Researchers say that in Asia, Africa, and Europe, animal management went hand in hand with the development of cities, but in America, people may have raised animals for ceremonial purposes, according to the report’s conclusions.

Sharpe and her colleagues say that trade and management of animals began in the Preclassic Period about 2,500 years ago and intensified during the Classic Period, causing organized ceremonies that included the sacrifice of both animals and humans, which lead toward the breeding of animals for Food, which played important roles in the development of the Mayan civilization.

To arrive at these conclusions, the team analyzed the isotopes of animal remains, that is, atoms that have the same number of protons and electrons but different numbers of neutrons and, therefore, have different physical properties.

The carbon in the bodies of animals comes from the plant tissues that they consumed directly or indirectly, according to the researchers, who pointed out that most plants use the most common type of photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into carbohydrates.

Dog bones were found in the lower levels of two wells. Image Credit: Ashley Sharpe.

This process leaves the lighter carbon isotope, carbon 12, trapped in carbohydrate molecules; corn, sugar cane and other herbs, on the other hand, use another type of photosynthesis that concentrates heavier carbon molecules.

“The animal remains fall into two categories, those with lower carbon isotopes, indicating they were eating mostly wild plants, and those with higher isotopes, which were probably eating corn,” said Sharpe.

Before this study, the earliest evidence of live trading of dogs was discovered in the Caribbean around 1000AD.

“I think dogs were moving before 400 BC, although dog trade probably didn’t happen until after people became sedentary and had set settlements to trade between,” said Sharpe speaking to Mail Online.

“In Asia, Africa, and Europe, animal management went hand-in-hand with the development of cities,” she said.

“It is interesting to consider that humans could have had a greater impact on the management and manipulation of animal species in ancient Mesoamerica than was believed,” said Sharpe, who intends to continue studying this phenomenon to understand the behavior of the Mayan civilization better.

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