Large Scale Research on Food Remains over 2000 Years at the Maya Site of Ceibal, Guatemala.

June 13, 2020

35,000 tiny bone and shell fragments from the Maya site of Ceibal (1000 BCE-1200 CE), Guatemala reveal the ups and downs of the Maya during their 2000 years. Researchers from Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the University of Arizona, the University of Ibaraki, Japan and Guatemala’s Institute of Anthropology and History and Universidad de San Carlos took part in the study.

They found a dramatic shift in diet from apple snails and mollusks to vertebrate such as deer. Perhaps diverting water for irrigation dried up water sources There were many different dogs, and indications that some were eaten.

An adult male buried at 700-450 BCE was buried with hundreds of apple snails, maybe a burial feast. The shift to fish, turtle and deer happened 2000 years ago. There is evidence of deforestation and erosion around 200 CE which destroyed wetland habitats. The number of turtles found indicate the Maya at Ceibal may have imported turtles. The elite consumed deer and lower classes ate armadillo, rabbits, pacas, agoutis, possums, raccoons, weasels and armadillos, anteaters and even an occasional peccary or tapir.

A few entire dog skeletons were found intentionally buried under the floors, leading to the idea that some dogs may have been pets.

Turkeys were imported after the Pre-Classic, probably from Central Mexico.

Ceibal elites wore feline paws and skins on stelae. In a trash heap behind the royal palace, researchers discovered margay and kinkajou mandibles, the arm of an anteater, a bull shark tooth, and sea urchin spines, perhaps also the remains of costumes or other royal paraphernalia.

“Then suddenly everything stopped around 950 AD during the famous ’Maya Collapse’ when all the cities were abandoned,” Sharpe said “Only a few people occasionally returned to the edges of the site in the centuries after that.”
“The focus of Maya archaeology up until now has been large monumental sites, and especially the royal elites during the Classic period,” Sharpe said. “We hope to excavate residences and older sites to get a better idea of what society was like for the majority of the Maya people.”

The research is published in the journal PLOS One.

Smithsonian has the report here with lots of slides;

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