Creatures from the Lagoon: Maya Turtle Exploitation at Lamanai, Belize

Author(s): Arianne Boileau

Year: 2016


Archaeological excavations at the Maya site of Lamanai, Belize, have resulted in the recovery of more than 10,000 remains of turtles dating from the Late Postclassic to the Early Colonial periods. This abundance of turtle specimens represents a unique opportunity to study Maya turtle exploitation at an unprecedented scale. Preliminary analyses of a sample of 2,400 bones recovered from domestic structures provide information on subsistence practices. The Maya primarily exploited river turtles, with a strong preference for the Central American river turtle (Dermatemys mawii) and, to a lesser extent, the Meso-American slider (Trachemys venusta) and Mexican musk turtle (Staurotypus triporcatus). The practice of dismembering turtles at the junction of the carapace and plastron is attested by the presence of hack and cut marks on the bridge of these two elements. Frequent burning of the exterior of the carapace and plastron also suggests that turtles were roasted and, perhaps, smoked over fire. As proposed by zooarchaeologist Norbert Stanchly, the Lamanai Maya may have practiced turtle husbandry to allow for a study supply of this resource. Future stable isotopic and ancient DNA analyses may inform this hypothesis.

Cite this Record

Creatures from the Lagoon: Maya Turtle Exploitation at Lamanai, Belize. Arianne Boileau. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 405298)

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Geographic Keywords
Central America

Spatial Coverage

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