Spider monkey traded by ancient Mayan elites found in Mexico

The skeleton of a 1,700-year-old spider monkey discovered in Teotihuacán.

Archaeologists working on the Complex of the Place des Colonnes site of Teotihuacán have made a surprising discovery in the ancient Mayan capital: the remains of a 1,700-year-old spider monkey, which archaeologists suspect was once a state gift between elites.

The Square of Columns sits between the Sun and Moon pyramids in Teotihuacán, the ancient seat of Mesoamerican power. In terms of the town planning of Teotihuacán, the plaza is prime real estate, and artefacts found in the area are associated with Mayan elites, possibly even ruling individuals.

The monkey is Geoffroy’s spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), or the black-handed spider monkey. Now endangered, the animal is not native to the high altitudes of Teotihuacán.

The monkey’s remains were found alongside thousands of fragments of wall paintings and ceramic shards, along with the remains of several other animals: a golden eagle, several rattlesnakes and snail artifacts. The research describing the simian discovery was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In 378 CE, warriors from Teotihuacán arrived in Tikal, a Mayan city in modern-day Guatemala. It was a first exchange between the cultural elites of Mesoamerica, and the event is generally considered to be a change of political control in the region, in favor of Teotihuacán. But the spider monkey – a gift from the Maya to the capital’s elites – predates this event, indicating that diplomatic relations between the two groups were more equal (or at least cordial) before 378.

“The fact that the Mayans chose a spider monkey, instead of saying a jaguar, as a gift shows how they wanted the Teotihuacanos to see them.Nawa Sugiyama, an archaeologist at UC Riverside and lead author of the research, said in an email to Gizmodo.

A Geoffroy's spider monkey on a branch.

Excavations at the site have also revealed valuables and handicrafts, such as jade figurines, obsidian blades, and projectile points. Yet it was the monkey that really caught the attention of archaeologists.

“Apex predators like the jaguar, puma, wolf, golden eagle and rattlesnake were sacrificed at Teotihuacan as the state emblems of Teotihuacan,” Sugiyama said. “Unlike those predators that carry symbols of militarism, dominance, and power, the spider monkey is a charismatic animal associated with scribes, craftsmen, and playfulness.”

Using a body of evidence (from ancient DNA, isotopes of the monkey’s teeth, and paleobotanical evidence in the soil around the animal), the team determined that the female monkey was between five and eight years old when She is dead.

Its teeth indicated that the monkey had spent about two years in captivity and had eaten corn and chili peppers (among other foodstuffs) in Teotihuacán. Before that, the animal lived in a humid environment (presumably the rainforest) and ate plants and roots.

From the bones, the archaeological team was able to resurrect an incredibly vivid life story of the animal, from its days in the wild to its obvious capture and death.

While archaeologists can’t be certain of the ape’s diplomatic purpose, this perhaps only underscores the importance of their scientific feat: they deduced where a 1,700-year-old ape lived. during his life based on what he ate.

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