Some dogs were royalty, others were dinner in ancient Mayan culture

Source: Science Magazine

If you were top dog in Mayan Latin America, you might be an honored guest at the king’s feast. But if not, you’d likely end up as the main course of someone else’s. That’s the conclusion of a new chemical analysis of animal bones found in a 3000-year-old Guatemalan city, which provides the earliest picture yet of how the ancient Mayans domesticated animals and treated those in their care.

“It’s a well-done study,” says Henry Schwarcz, an anthropologist and professor emeritus who researches paleodiets at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, though he notes more work will be needed to confirm the findings. And the study may solve another mystery, he says: how the Mayans produced enough protein to feed the thousands who thronged their cities.

Between 1000 B.C.E. and 950 C.E., as many as 10,000 people lived in the important Mayan city of Seibal, located in today’s Guatemalan lowlands. Such big urban centers require lots of food, and the Mayans hunted deer, peccaries, and tapirs. But archaeologists have uncovered precious little evidence that the civilization practiced widespread animal domestication, which might have been needed to sustain such a big population, says Ashley Sharpe, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City.