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Mayans Bred, Traded Dogs For Ceremonial Use: Evidence Found In Animal Isotopes

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Discoveries from a 3,000-year-old Mayan site in Guatemala reveal that ancient people have raised and traded dogs for food and ceremonial purposes.

Archeologists found and examined bones as well as the teeth of cats and dogs in the Ceibal mining site that existed in 700 to 350 B.C.

The purpose of the study that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was to test samples of isotopes and conclude whether the animals were domesticated or were fed in the wild.

Scientists used carbon isotopes to identify the animal's food sources. High levels of carbon isotopes, for example, would mean that the animal might have been corn-fed while low isotopes would indicate that it ate in the wild.

These figures show that the dogs that existed during the Mayan civilization were domesticated and given corn as food. Meanwhile, deer bones exhibited butcher marks, suggesting that they may have been hunted in the wild and are likely not fed with local crops. The cats, including a large one resembling a jaguar, showed isotope characteristics of eating wild plants.

Interestingly, the study, led by Ashley Sharpe, an archaeologist from Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, revealed that the remains of the two dogs excavated in Ceibal in Guatemala indicated isotopes that the animals likely adapted a drier and mountainous environment.

"This is the first evidence from the Americas of dogs being moved around the landscape. Around 1000 A.D. there's evidence that dogs were moved out to islands in the Caribbean, but the Ceibal remains are dated at about 400 BC," Sharpe said.

Animals As Symbol Of Power And Economic Stability

Sharpe said that further studies are needed to investigate what roles did animals, like dogs, play in the evolution of the Mayan civilization or the ancient Mesoamerica in general.

"My colleagues at the Ceibal-Petexbatun Archaeological Project will publish additional analyses, and I'm looking forward to finding out if all of the human remains at the site are from the region," Sharpe said.

However, the researchers concluded that dogs were likely used in ceremonies to demonstrate power or were traded among other tribes.

She further explained that animals played pivotal roles in the evolution of ancient societies in Asia, Africa, and Europe. In Ancient Rome, Mesopotamia, and China, animals were part of their economic system, which explained why it became fundamental that the animals were transported all the time, Sharpe told CNN.

It is important to note these differences through archaeological studies because, in Americas, animal raising and breeding have religious or cultural significance.

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