The nature of animal management in Mesoamerica is not as well understood compared with other state-level societies around the world. In this study, isotope analysis of animal remains from Ceibal, Guatemala, provides the earliest direct evidence of live animal trade and possible captive animal rearing in the Maya region. Carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen isotopes show that domesticated and possibly even wild animals were raised in or around Ceibal and were deposited in the ceremonial core. Strontium isotope analysis reveals the Maya brought dogs to Ceibal from the distant Guatemalan highlands. The possible ceremonial contexts of these captive-reared and imported taxa suggests animal management played an important role in the symbolic development of political power.
This study uses a multiisotope (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and strontium) approach to examine early animal management in the Maya region. An analysis of faunal specimens across almost 2,000 years (1000 BC to AD 950) at the site of Ceibal, Guatemala, reveals the earliest evidence for live-traded dogs and possible captive-reared taxa in the Americas. These animals may have been procured for ceremonial functions based on their location in the monumental site core, suggesting that animal management and trade began in the Maya area to promote special events, activities that were critical in the development of state society. Isotopic evidence for animal captivity at Ceibal reveals that animal management played a greater role in Maya communities than previously believed.