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    This 1,700-year-old sacrificial monkey has a surprising tale

    The playful primate may have been a diplomatic gift to Teotihuacan from the Maya at a time of murky relations between the two powerful Mesoamerican groups.

    Published November 21, 2022

    7 min read

    The life and death of a female monkey sacrificed some 1,700 years ago may provide important clues to the rise of one of the world’s most powerful ancient cities: Teotihuacan. Located in what is now Mexico, this power center influenced much of Mesoamerica in the first half of the first millennium A.D.

    In a detailed study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an interdisciplinary group of researchers reconstruct the final years of the female spider monkey (Ateles geoffroy) based in part on evidence from its well-preserved skeleton, which was found in a cache of sacrificed animals in an area of Teotihuacan known as the Plaza of the Columns.

    Spider monkeys are not native to Teotihuacan, located some 30 miles from modern Mexico City. A multidisciplinary study, drawing on experts in archaeology, biology, geology, and ancient DNA, revealed more of the monkey’s tale: No more than five to eight years old at death, the female monkey, was born in a yet-determined lowland region outside Teotihuacan, and had spent at least two years in captivity in the arid highlands. Researchers consider it the earliest known evidence for the translocation and captivity of a primate in the Mesoamerican world.

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