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  Lamanai/Tipu: Spanish Effect on Maya Diet
  Role: Archaeologist/Zooarchaeologist  

How did the Maya respond to the dietary edicts of the conquering Spanish invaders?

When the Spanish conquistadores and missionaries arrived in the New World, they brought with them a panoply of beliefs about appropriate foods and eating habits. In some areas they set up permanent residences and introduced Spanish plants and animals as foods. In other areas, the Spanish were only a temporary presence as they travelled a round of visits through larger regions, but even in these areas, they imposed rules and decrees about the animals and plants the Maya were allowed to consume.

At the sites of Lamanai and Tipu in Belize, CA, the Spanish reported great success in the imposition of changes in all aspects of daily and ritual Maya life. However, zooarchaeological research at these sites shows that the residents of these two sites were far from accepting Spanish edicts over the animals that they used. In fact, not only did the Maya at these sites apparently refuse to change their pre-Contact eating habits to Spanish norms, but they began to re-incorporate species that had been important in earlier Classic times instead of those required by Spanish decree.

Does this perhaps indicate only that the natural species availability had changed several times over the past centuries making Contact period diet resemble Classic period diet more than Postclassic period diet? Or does it indicate that the Maya peoples intentionally emphasized a reversion to their Classic period Maya norms by controlling the choices they made in food types? This second conclusion is supported by evidence from other archaeological work at the sites (by David Pendergast at Lamanai and Elizabeth Graham at Tipu) that shows a hidden but strong conservation of ritual practices as well as daily habits.

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