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Jaguar and puma captivity and trade among the Maya: Stable isotope data from Copan, Honduras

By Nawa Sugiyama, William L. Fash, Christine A.M. France

Category Journal Articles

From Moctezuma’s zoo to animals kept in captivity at Teotihuacan, there is increasing evidence that Mesoamericans managed wild animals for a myriad of purposes. The present study situates ritualized animal management of highly symbolic fauna in the broader context of Classic Mesoamerica by examining another core site, the Maya center of Copan, Honduras (A.D. 426–822). In this study, we identify two animal populations among the faunal remains from public and private rituals spanning the Copan dynasty. One population, with diets heavily composed of atypically sourced C4 inputs indicative of artificial feeding, corresponds with the felids interred in Altar Q and Motmot caches. The second population is composed of felids and felid products bearing a predominance of C3 signatures indicative of a more natural dietary regime. As with Copan deer, species-specific δ18O variations within these felid populations further substantiates the postulation that an expansive faunal trade network operated throughout the greater Copan Valley and beyond. Animals routed from sites of capture into the mesh of this network would have been processed into pelts, venison and other secondary goods or delivered alive to centers of state power for ritual usage and display. Our data reveal that at Copan, wild animals were routinely brought into intimate contact with human settlements to be managed and physically manipulated in a variety of ways in order to fulfill ritual and symbolic purposes.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2018
Publication Title PLoS One
Volume 13
Issue 9
Pages 24
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Analysis
  2. Animal roles
  3. Deer
  4. Honduras
  5. Jaguars
  6. Mayan People
  7. open access
  8. peer-reviewed
  9. Puma
  10. Teeth.
  11. Zoo and captive wild animals
  1. open access
  2. peer-reviewed