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Animals of the First Maya States: Zooarchaeological and Stable Isotopic Analyses from Ceibal, Guatemala

Data from faunal and stable isotope analyses from the archaeological site of Ceibal, Guatemala

Project Abstract


This dataset contains information pertaining to the zooarchaeological identifications, analyses, and isotopic geochemistry that were performed on the animal remains recovered from the archaeological site of Ceibal, Guatemala, and its minor satellite center, Caobal. Both vertebrate and invertebrate material are included. The dataset contains the following information:

  • taxonomic identifications
  • element identifications and related information (part/portion, quantity, condition, natural and anthropogenic alterations, measurements, and weights)
  • contextual and chronological information
  • recovery method information (date of recovery, excavation and screening techniques)
  • stable isotopic data (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, lead, and strontium)

Excavations at Ceibal and Caobal were conducted by the Ceibal-Petexbatun Archaeological Project, directed by Drs. Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan from the University of Arizona (2005-present), and co-directed in various years by Lic. Erick Ponciano (2005-2006) and Otto Román de León (2008-2010) of the Instituto de Antropología e Historia of Guatemala (IDAEH), Lic. Victor Castillo Aguilar (2011-2012), Juan Manuel Palomo (2013), and Flory María Pinzón (2014-present) of the Universidad de San Carlos, and Dr. Kazuo Aoyama of the Ibaraki University (2008-2009). Data comes from specimens recovered from the 2005-2015 excavation seasons. Specimens were identified by Sharpe in the Ceibal project laboratory in Guatemala City, and a subset of the remains were transported to the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) for analysis using the museum's comparative collections. Zooarchaeological identification was supervised by Dr. Kitty Emery, curator of the museum's Environmental Archaeology Program. Isotopic analyses were conducted by Sharpe using the facilities housed in the Bone Chemistry Laboratory of the Department of Anthropology, University of Florida, and the class-1000 clean and mass spectrometry labs of the Department of Geological Sciences.

The data were obtained in order to understand how the ancient inhabitants of Ceibal acquired, used, and disposed of animal resources. Ceibal is one of the earliest known Preclassic Maya centers that sustained a continuous occupation for two thousand years, until its sociopolitical demise in the Terminal Classic period (c. A.D. 1000). It provides a unique opportunity to trace the development of social complexity throughout the Preclassic and into the Early Classic period (1000 BC - AD 600). The study addressed three major questions pertaining to the overarching issue of distinguishing the advent of social inequality and complex statehood at Preclassic Ceibal:

  1. When do signs of social stratification occur at Ceibal and Caobal during the Preclassic period in terms of the differential distribution and use of animals and their products, and how does this compare with faunal datasets at other lowland Preclassic sites?
  2. Is there evidence for an increased reliance on domesticated and husbanded species at Ceibal and Caobal over time, indicating a greater degree of intentional control of animals and their products?
  3. Is there evidence for the long-distance exchange of both marine and terrestrial animals during the Preclassic period, suggesting early economic and political interactions among communities?

Methodological Notes:

These methods will be elaborated on in the forthcoming dissertation by Sharpe (2016) and included here.


  • Middle Preclassic Period (1000 - 400 BC)
  • Late Preclassic Period (400 BC - AD 250)
  • Early Classic Period (AD 250 - 600)
  • Late Classic Period (AD 600 - 800)
  • Terminal Classic Period (AD 800 - 1000)

Potential Applications of Data:

This information can be used by researchers investigating Maya animal husbandry and procurement practices, short and long-distance exchange relationships, the establishment of social inequality and status ranks, artifact production, animal-related myths and symbolism (especially during the Preclassic period), religious and feasting practices, and the human impact on environmental ecosystems over time. The data span over 1500 years (1000 BC - AD 500), allowing for a long-term perspective of human- environment interactions.

Current Disposition of the Physical Collection:

The vast majority of the specimens are stored at the Ceibal-Petexbatun Archaeological Project lab house in Guatemala City. One box of specimens (~1000 specimens) that had been transported to the United States for identification and isotope analysis is currently located in the Environmental Archaeology Program Zooarchaeology Laboratory of the Florida Museum of Natural History. This box will be shipped to the Ceibal project lab house in August, 2016. After 2016 the collection will be housed in the repository of IDAEH.


  • National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, Project Title: A Zooarchaeological Perspective on the Formation of Maya States, Award No. 1433043
  • Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research, Project Title: Identifying Animal Resource Exchange at the Onset of Maya State Formation
  • Latin American Studies Tinker Travel Grant, University of Florida
  • University of Florida Graduate Alumni Fellowship

Related Publication(s):

Sharpe, Ashley E.

In progress
Dissertation: A Zooarchaeological Perspective on the Formation of Maya States (completion date on time for 2016)

Sharpe, Ashley E.

Los Animales en la Economía Emergente de Ceibal Preclásico. In Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas XXIX, Guatemala, edited by Bárbara Arroyo and Héctor Escobedo, pp. 1-19. Asociación Tikal, Guatemala.

Sharpe, Ashley

Identificación y análisis isotópico de restos animales. In Informe del Proyecto Arqueológico Ceibal-Petexbatun la Temporada 2015, edited by Flory Pinzón and Takeshi Inomata. Report submitted to the Instituto de Antropología y Historia, 2015.

Sharpe, Ashley

Análisis de hueso animal y concha. In Informe del Proyecto Arqueológico Ceibal-Petexbatun la Temporada 2014, edited by Flory Pinzón, Jessica MacLellan, and Takeshi Inomata. Report submitted to the Instituto de Antropología y Historia, 2014.

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Suggested Citation

Ashley E Sharpe. "Animals of the First Maya States: Zooarchaeological and Stable Isotopic Analyses from Ceibal, Guatemala". (2017) Ashley E Sharpe (Ed.) . Released: 2017-02-01. Open Context. <> DOI:

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