Earliest evidence of primate captivity and translocation supports gift diplomacy between Teotihuacan and the Maya

Nawa Sugiyama, Saburo Sugiyama, Clarissa Cagnato, Christine A.M. France, Atsushi Iriki, Karissa S. Hughes, Robin R. Singleton, Erin Thornton, Courtney A. Hofman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


A multimethod archaeometry study (zooarchaeological, isotopic, ancient DNA, paleobotanical, and radiocarbon dating) of a spider monkey sacrificed in the ceremonial center of Teotihuacan, Mexico (1 to 550 CE) is interpreted as a diplomatic gift exchange with neighboring Maya. Not only does this spider monkey provide the earliest known instance of primate translocation and captivity in Mesoamerica, it helps date incipient modes of interregional diplomacy between two major powers during Early Classic Mesoamerica: Teotihuacan and the Maya. Details of human–primate interaction include age at capture and transport (before ∼3 y of age), captive duration (over 2 y), anthropogenic diet (staple was maize, though secondary resources unique to anthropogenic diet including arrowroot and chili pepper were also found), context of sacrifice (tethered and associated with complete golden eagle and an array of other statecrafts), and general site context (including presence of Maya vessels and Maya-style murals). The timing of the spider monkey’s sacrifice (250 to 300 CE) and its life history suggest a reconsideration of epigraphically attested militaristic involvement of Teotihuacan at certain Maya sites. We propose that a period of more multilateral and fluid ritual exchange with Maya dignitaries preceded the Teotihuacan state’s eventual ascent to prominence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2212431119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number47
StatePublished - Nov 22 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Mesoamerica
  • animal translocation
  • archaeometry
  • gift exchange
  • primate captivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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