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his topic may not sound so abnormal as even today we trade animals, especially pets such as dogs, cats, or hamsters, however, if you put the Mayan culture into this equation it is a whole different story. In order to get a better understanding, we should first delve into the history of animal domestication. We know that many previous human species as the Homo Sapiens have hunted their food, making them mainly carnivorous, but as we have evolved we learned that animals can be domesticated for us to rear and consume.

Animal domestication

The domestication of animals is considered to have started around 9000 years ago and the first animal to be domesticated was the pig. This domestication was necessary for the survival of many civilizations as hunting for food became more difficult with more mouths to feed. Looking into alternatives such as farming crops or rearing animals in primitive farms seemed an efficient source to keep a society fed.

Mayan mural from Tikal / Provenance uncertain (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

We can see this discovery from the analyses of prehistoric animal bones found by archeologists. The higher the level of carbonated isotopes, the more likely it was that the animals were consuming only vegetables, meaning that they were most likely brought up in farms. A low level of carbonated isotopes would mean that they would consume wild plants, meaning that they were not domesticated.

As per usual, when talking about prehistoric data, there are many missing pieces, so we can only fill in the gaps with our most precise estimates up to the knowledge we have acquired thanks to technological advancements. The more we advance in this futuristic present, the more information we will be able to uncover.

The Mayan culture

The bones discovered in a Mayan archeological site in Guatemala offer the newest pieces of information about the domestication and use of the animals domesticated by the Mayans. It is said that these bones date back to 700BC and they are of dogs and cats. Ancient historians tell us that a big part of the Mayan culture was the sacrifice of animals which was supposed to bring good faith to the Mayan people. Archeologists believe that this site was actually a sacrificial ground where domesticated animals such as cats and dogs were sacrificed.

Other Mayan archeological discoveries show us that the Mayan people were cultivating a lot of plants, therefore their diet was mainly made up of fruits and vegetables. This inclines us to think that if the animals were not traded to be consumed, they were most likely traded to be sacrificed. Sacrifices of animals or even humans were a big part of their religion. It wasn’t so much about the sacrifice of a soul, but about the blood of that person or in this case animal. Many of these religious traditions can be showcased in Mayan hieroglyphics.

“Ritualized sacrifice was usually performed in public by religious or political leaders piercing a soft body part, most commonly the tongue, ear or foreskin, and collecting the blood to smear directly on the idol or collecting it on paper, which was then burned.” (Joyce et al 1991.)

Even with all of this information, there are still many missing pieces in the Mayan culture to actually state a “proper” reason for sacrificing animals, but we know that a good portion of trade that was made by the Mayans was made up of domesticated animals and from the empirical evidence that we have gathered it is believed that these animals were not used for consumption.

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