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  Piedras Negras Archaeological Project.
  Role: Project Zooarchaeologist  

Did the Maya kings really eat more meat, have better bone tools, and display more beautiful shell artifacts than the people they ruled?

Mesoamerican archaeologists have always assumed that the kings of the Maya world got the "best and the biggest" of everything. But is this really true when it comes to animal meat and biproducts like skins and shell, or did those who hunted for the kings take the best for themselves? Modern archaeological work at sites like Piedras Negras, directed by Dr. Stephen Houston of Brigham Young University, and Hector Escobedo of Universidad de San Carlos, now concentrate on collecting information from both the palaces and temples of the nobility and the suburban homes and poorer shacks of the peripheral residents on whom the kings depended for their very livelihood. Bone and shell remains from both the center and periphery can be used to tell us exactly how much better life was in the palaces of the kings...or in fact, if it was any different at all!

I've discovered an intriguing side issue at the site of Piedras Negras. On the picture above you can see a sting ray spine (bottom) that was found in a burial and was probably used for blood-letting by an ancient Maya noble. Above it you can see a cat-fish spine. These look very similar and the catfish spines are often mistaken for sting-ray spines because we often find them in burials too. But surprisingly nobody has yet suggested that these spines from a humble "food fish" were possibly also used in ritual blood-letting as well!

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