The discovery marks the first evidence of a primate being held in captivity in the Americas.
Archaeologists have found the skeleton of a 1,700-year-old spider monkey buried alongside an eagle and rattlesnakes at the base of a pyramid in the ancient city of Teotihuacan. It is assumed that it was some kind of gift from the Mayans.
Unearthed in 2018 at the base of a pyramid in Teotihuacan, the ape’s skeleton lies alongside the corpses of other animals in an area of the city where visiting Mayan elites may have resided.
While scientists have already found evidence of animal sacrifices, “until then we had no cases of primates being sacrificed at Teotihuacan,” says Nawa Sugiyama, an anthropologist archaeologist at the University of California, Riverside.
The researchers performed chemical analyzes on the spider monkey’s bones and teeth and found that the animal was female and had been captured in a humid environment at a young age, around the third century. The monkey then lived in captivity for a few years before dying between 250 and 300 AD.
The highlands around Mexico City are not the natural habitat of spider monkeys. Based on this fact, as well as the presence of Mayan murals and vessels, Sugiyama and his colleagues suggest that the spider monkey may have been a gift from the Mayan elite to the people of Teotihuacan.
Moreover, the discovery prompted scientists to suggest that there were diplomatic relations between the Maya and Teotihuacan before the “war of 378”. [AD]’, when the military forces of Teotihuacan invaded the Mayan city of Tikal, thus beginning a period of approximately 70 years of violent confrontations.
This “striking” discovery shows that “the War of 378 had a long history that preceded it,” says David Stuart, archaeologist and epigraphist at the University of Texas at Austin. “The monkey is a really compelling illustration of this long relationship.”