Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



The ancient Maya of Mesoamerica inhabited a biodiverse landscape filled with animal taxa that provided both physical resources and rich ideological inspiration. To date, faunal studies among the Maya have been more limited than other types of archaeological investigations, leaving much still unknown about how human-animal relations varied across time and space. This study utilizes zooarchaeological, iconographic, ethnohistoric, and ethnographic data to illuminate the use of animals in Late Classic period (600-900 CE) ritual at the sites of La Corona and El Perú-Waka' (henceforth abbreviated as El Perú) in Petén, Guatemala, and to investigate the roles of commensal mammals in ancient economic and belief systems. The discussion is centered on a ritual-economic analysis of human-animal relations as revealed by the presented data.

The La Corona sample is derived from a high elite feasting context recovered from a chultun (CR16B-1A). This deposit was located in close association with Structure 13R-10, a building used for elite political legitimization and observation of calendric rituals during the Classic period (250-900 CE). A zooarchaeological analysis of faunal remains reveals that the participants in the feasting event preserved in this deposit consumed opossums in addition to taxa more typically related to high-status consumption. I relate this to the ideological associations of opossums revealed through iconography and ethnography.

The second component of the dissertation is a study of El Perú Structure M12-44 (the "Cuartito"), a subterranean chamber that contained abundant and diverse faunal remains and other materials. The structure's association with the nearby civic-ceremonial Structure M13-1 and its unusual architectural form lead to the interpretation that Structure M12-44 was created as a "pseudocave" for ritual access to the Underworld. I hypothesize that the faunal remains were placed in the Cuartito to formally position animals in this liminal space.

I next turn to an issue central to interpretation of the La Corona and El Perú deposits: the role of certain commensal mammals--opossums, rodents, and rabbits--in Maya economy and ideology. Through examination of their ethology, documented uses among modern and historic Maya groups, and archaeological evidence, I suggest that these taxa were potentially valuable resources for subsistence and also held symbolic associations that must be considered when their remains are discovered in archaeological contexts.

This study has produced detailed analyses of two previously unreported ritual deposits as well as a comprehensive investigation of the commensal mammals that are rarely evaluated for their contributions to Maya life, although they are present throughout the area inhabited by the Maya. In so doing, I provide new data on local expression of human-animal relations of Late Classic ritual activity in the archaeologically understudied region of northwestern Petén and also contribute to the thematic and pan-Maya study of the economic and symbolic exploitation of animals.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

David A Freidel

Committee Members

Marcello Canuto, Michael Frachetti, Carolyn Freiwald, Gayle Fritz, Fiona B Marshall, Susan Rotroff


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