Discovery of a 1,700-year-old gift
A new study shows a female spider monkey was given as a gift 1,700 years ago to strengthen ties between two great powers in pre-Columbian South America, and then buried alive.
It is likely that prominent figures in the Mayan civilization presented this precious gift to another civilization in Teotihuacan. The study, published in PNAS Journal, compares this method to the panda diplomacy China used in normalizing its relationship with the United States in the 1970s.
Using various techniques such as ancient DNA extraction, carbon dating or even dietary analysis, the researchers managed to reconstruct the animal’s life and death journey, and they found that it was buried alive when it was between 5 and 8 years old .
The research team’s work began with Nawa Sugiyama’s sudden discovery in 2018 of animal remains at the UNESCO-designated Teotihuacan archaeological site, located in the arid high plains of present-day Mexico.
The study’s lead author, Nawa Sugiyama of the University of California, told AFP that the presence of spider monkeys in this region is not common because it is not an original home for these animals. This raised questions about the reason for its existence, who brought it and why was it sacrificed?
Teotihuacan, less than 50 kilometers from the capital, Mexico City, was an important center of cultural exchange and innovation in Central America.
The monkey skeleton was found next to a golden eagle, Mexico’s symbol that still stands today, and surrounded by a collection of valuable items, including nails made from obsidian, a volcanic rock important to pre-Columbian cultures.
A mural depicting a spider monkey was also discovered, which Sugiyama says confirmed the hypothesis that a top-level exchange took place.
The researchers wrote that the female spider monkey may have been “a curiosity in the Teotihuacan highlands because it is a strange animal.”
The study’s authors noted that “the animal’s hands were tied behind its back and its feet were also bound, signifying that it was buried alive in accordance with a tradition common to human and animal sacrifices in Teotihuacan.”
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