Mayans hunted white-tailed deer to show their political clout, reveals study

November 14th, 2007 - 10:29 am ICT by admin  
Evidence from Mayan culture and social structure at the end of the Classic period (approximately 250 to 800 A.D) strongly supports the assertion that the ancient race regarded the practice of hunting animals as a status symbol.

“We’re finding declines specifically in large-game species, and particularly in the species that were politically and socially important to the Maya,” said Kitty Emery, Assistant Curator of Environmental Archaeology, Florida Museum of Natural History.

“The politically powerful elite Maya had preferential access to large game, and white-tailed deer were especially important to the Maya as food and for their symbolic power,” she added.

According to Emery, who is also the author of the study, not all researched sites showed large-game declines despite high human population. The declines were most noticeable at regional capitals and large cities.

“The capital cities were home to a large and top-heavy ruling class who demanded that the regions’ hunters provide them with large quantities of the best cuts of favourite meats from large game, and particularly the white-tailed deer,” University of Florida News quoted Emery.

“They also demanded large numbers of symbolically important species such as white-tailed deer and large wild cats like jaguar and puma, since these species were used as symbolic displays of their wealth and power, and were used in ritual interactions with the deities,” she added.

The study involved researchers tracking the proportion of large-game animals to all vertebrate species over time, using 78,928 animal bones found at 25 Maya archaeological sites.

The samples spanned 2,500 years, from about 1000 B.C. to 1500 A.D. This period includes the collapse of the lowland Maya political and social order and the final period of Spanish colonization.

“The data suggests the game decline was caused primarily by hunting pressure since the reduction in numbers was recorded for large vertebrates as opposed to just animals sensitive to the disappearance of forest cover or those sensitive to climate changes,” said Emery.

“But the effects of hunting pressure were undoubtedly intensified by deforestation and climate change since there is also documented evidence for these changes at the same time,” she added.

The reason for deforestation during the Mayan period was the demand for wood used in building finishes such as lime plaster. This demand, combined with an exploding population base, cleared more and more land for agriculture, thus resulting in deforestation. Concurrent climate change resulted in a 200-year drought, which further curtailed forest re-growth.

“The rulers’ response to the environmental degradation may have been to demand more large game and more deer to use in feasts and rituals where they appealed to deities for help and also to prove their status,” said Emery.

“As the valued resources became scarcer, they made more demands to obtain them to prove and reinforce their power,” she added. (ANI)

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