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Ritualized Animals: Understanding Human-Animal Interactions at Teotihuacan

Nawa Sugiyama, Harvard University, William R. Tyler Fellow 2012–2014

During the course of my two-year fellowship, I completed both the laboratory work and the write-up of my dissertation project. I analyzed zooarchaeological and isotopic finds of nearly two hundred animals from offerings at Teotihuacan, Mexico (1–550). This analysis not only allowed me to produce a more nuanced reconstruction of the state rituals that took place but also enabled me to understand what some of the key animals—felines, wolves, eagles, and rattlesnakes—symbolized and how Teotihuacanos would have interacted with them. Skeletal pathologies confirmed that these wild carnivores were kept in confinement in anticipation of the rituals. For example, a female puma, about eighteen months old, had an injury on her right femoral head. This would have been a fatal injury for a solitary predator, but bone remodeling shows that she survived this wound. Most likely, this carnivore was cared for, and the remains of cooked rabbits in her stomach provide direct evidence of artificial feeding. Results of bone isotopic investigations confirm this interpretation, as many of the animals sacrificed consumed high levels of C4 grasses, most likely man-grown maize. These results push back the practice of keeping wild animals captive for sacrifice over nine centuries prior to the fifteenth century, when Aztec rulers were reported to have maintained zoos housing exotic and ferocious animals. I use evidences of captivity to argue that these carnivores were active in defining the sociopolitical landscape, giving meaning to monuments themselves, and transforming artificial mounds into sacred mountains.