A Preliminary Isotopic Investigation into Ancient Maya Fish Trade

Author(s): Petra Cunningham-Smith

Year: 2016


The ancient coastal Maya fished for food and trade to the heavily populated cities that lay many miles inland. At these inland cities, marine fish were an elite and symbolic product often included in burials and caches. Although the use of marine resources in both coastal and inland Maya communities has been well documented, actual fishing and trading practices are poorly understood. This paper explores the potential of using stable isotope analysis to answer questions related to the use and trade of marine fish from the Belize coastal and caye communities and their trading partners at near-coastal and inland sites. Tissue and bone samples from modern fish taxa from estuary and marine environments are analyzed for variations in carbon and nitrogen isotopes that may act as signatures of geographic distinctions in marine habitats. Archeological specimens of marine fish from coastal and inland Maya sites are also examined for isotopic variation that may suggest the location of capture of the fish. These baseline data may lead to the identification of important fishing areas and assist in the identification of trade routes between coastal and inland Maya communities.

Cite this Record

A Preliminary Isotopic Investigation into Ancient Maya Fish Trade. Petra Cunningham-Smith. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403105)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -94.702; min lat: 6.665 ; max long: -76.685; max lat: 18.813 ;