A female spider monkey was used 1,700 years ago as a gift to strengthen the bonds between two major powers in pre-Columbian South America, and was then sacrificed by being buried alive, according to a new study.
It is likely that prominent people from the Mayan civilization presented this precious gift to another civilization in Teotihuacan, according to Agence France-Presse. The study, published in the PNAS Journal, compares this method to the panda diplomacy practiced by China in normalizing its relations with the United States in the seventies of the twentieth century.
Using several techniques such as ancient DNA extraction, carbon dating, or even diet analysis, the researchers succeeded in reconstructing the animal’s life and death path, and 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 archaeological site of Teotihuacan, which is classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and is located in the arid plateaus of present-day Mexico. The lead author of the study, Nawa Sugiyama, noted; From the University of California, to Agence France-Presse, that the presence of the spider monkey is not common in this region, as it is not an original home for these animals, and this raised questions about the reason for its presence, who brought it, and why it was sacrificed.
Teotihuacan, located less than 50 kilometers from the capital, Mexico City, was an important center of cultural exchange and innovation in Central America.
The monkey’s skeleton was found next to a golden eagle, the emblem of Mexico that still exists today, and was surrounded by a group of valuable items. Among them are nails made of obsidian, a volcanic rock important to pre-Columbian cultures. A wall painting depicting a spider monkey was also discovered, which confirmed, according to Sugiyama, the hypothesis of an exchange at the highest levels.
The researchers wrote that the female spider monkey may have been “a curiosity in the highlands of Teotihuacan, given that it is a strange animal.” The authors of the study noted that “the animal’s hands were tied behind its back and its feet were also tied, which means that it was buried alive, according to a tradition that was common in human and animal sacrifices in Teotihuacan.”