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  Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala   image
  Role: Project Zooarchaeologist  

What was the impact of canal and city building on the fragile flora and fauna of the volcanic uplands of the Guatemala Valley? And what clues to long-distance trade and contact can the zooarchaeological fauna from Kaminaljuyu provide?

There are two intriguing questions driving my current research at Kaminaljuyu (excavations most recently directed by Dr. Stephen Houston of Brigham Young University). The first, most basic, and in some ways most intriguing issue is an investigation of ancient KJ inhabitant's use of and impact on the fragile but fertile volcanic upland environs. My earlier work at KJ (on a research project directed by Dr. Juan Antonio Valdes of San Carlos University) indicated that there are some interesting links between population growth, landscape modifications (building canals), and the rate of animal consumption and therefore likely the number of animals that were around. However, we would also expect that as populations grow, the animals that need full forest and those that don't like humans would disappear. In exchange we might expect to see that animals like deer who do like disturbed lands and agricultural fields would become more frequent AND that when the canals were built and maintained that we would see an increase in aquatic species like fish and turtles. We really don't see those changes yet -- which may be an effect of the small sample size I had with the last project. So I'm hoping KJ will provide a better sample and a better understanding of the animal resources during occupation of the site.

There are also some broader questions I'd like to approach with my research. KJ is a very early site and is the center of considerable controversy about the extent to which the Guatemalan and Mexican nobility were in contact, traveled, or traded, and to what extent this Mexican contact may have influence the rise of a social elite. Choices in animals used for food, as symbols of elite authority, and as part of rituals are good indicators of this type of contact or movement of people. I'll be interested to see whether animal use patterns might reflect ethnicity (as well as status etc.)

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