Old Dogs, New Tricks: Tracking Dog Management in the Ancient Maya World


This study examines the management of dogs as a resource and status symbol in ancient Mesoamerican society. One of the few New World domesticated animals, dogs provided communities with a steady source of meat. Artistic and ethnohistorical accounts suggest that dogs may also have been selectively bred to emphasize particular body shapes and hair types, including even absence of hair. These different breeds are described as playing different roles, as participants in specific ceremonies, as hunters, as companions (in life and death), as healers, and as favored foods. To date, however, archaeological evidence verifying the iconographic and historic record has been sparse. This study reviews chronological and spatial evidence of dog remains in different archaeological contexts, using morphometric and stable isotopic data to gain an understanding of the types, uses, and movement of dogs and dog breeds. An abundance of dog remains in Preclassic period contexts in comparison to Classic contexts, as well as evidence of higher than expected breed and dietary diversity throughout the Classic period suggests that the role dogs played in social and subsistence practices across the region varied over time, and that intensive dog breeding was much more specialized than previously assumed.

Cite this Record

Old Dogs, New Tricks: Tracking Dog Management in the Ancient Maya World. Petra Cunningham-Smith, Ashley Sharpe, Elizabeth Olson, Erin Thornton, Kitty Emery. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431234)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15130