Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2005:
Kitty F. Emery

Animals and Ritual in the Copán Acropolis: Zooarchaeology of Special Deposits
Vea este informe en Español.

Figure 3. The macrozoom function of the digital Nikon CoolPix 8.0 will allow for further quantification of unsampled vessel contents.

Research Year:  2004
Culture:  Maya
Chronology:  Early Classic
Location:  Copán, Honduras
Site:  Copán Acropolis

Table of Contents

The Zooarchaeology of Ritual
Recovery Methods
Creation of a Comparative Assemblage
Zooarchaeological Identification Methods
Preliminary Results
Modern Fishes of the Copán Region: The Comparative Sample
Animal Taxa of the Copán Acropolis Ritual Deposits
Ante Offerings
Margarita Deposits
Continuing Research
List of Figures
Sources Cited


In 2004, FAMSI funds supported the zooarchaeological recovery, identification, and analysis of animal remains recovered from ritual deposits by the Early Copán Acropolis Project (ECAP). 1   Here I present the preliminary identification results and a discussion of methods used in the research project. The zooarchaeological identifications are still on-going, and will eventually be used to document associations between species and contexts in the Copán Acropolis deposits in an effort to describe animal-related archaeological markers of Maya ritual activities.

These final data will increase our understanding of the ancient use of animal symbols in the expression of personal identity (status, occupation, social role), politics (allegiances, transfer of power), and ceremony (the celebration of death, historical events, and calendrical cycles). The Copán Acropolis ritual zooarchaeological assemblages are particularly valuable for this type of research both because of the unique taxa and associations found within the assemblages and because the deposits themselves are well-preserved, undisturbed, and in many cases linked by epigraphy to known historical personages and events. These deposits therefore provide a unique perspective on animal use in very specific ritual events.

To accomplish this research, in the summer of 2004, zooarchaeological materials excavated by the ECAP and currently stored at the Copán Centro de Investigaciones Arqueologicos were examined and identified on the premises with generous permission of Profesor Oscar Cruz and under supervision of the institution personnel. However, some fascinating examples required more intensive analysis. The ECAP Acropolis excavations have revealed superbly preserved ritual deposits spanning the occupation of Copán (Sharer 2000; Sharer, et al. 1992; Sharer, et al. 1999), and frequently containing diverse, undisturbed, animal remains in direct association with other archaeological assemblages. Some examples of these are the vessels found in the Margarita tomb and still containing the remains of fish and invertebrates from the offerings laid in the tomb. Representative zooarchaeological samples were collected from these interesting assemblages. These were exported with permission of the Instituto de Antropología Hondureño (Licda. Margarita Duron de Galvez, Gerente) and are in the process of identification in the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) Environmental Archaeology (EA) Laboratory with using the FLMNH comparative collections ( and additional specimens collected from the neighboring Copán River and traditional market of Jocotán, Guatemala.


  1. The Early Copán Acropolis Program (ECAP) was directed by Dr. Robert Sharer between 1989 and 2001 as part of the broader Proyecto Arqueológico Acrópolis Copán (PAAC).

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Submitted 05/12/2005 by:
Kitty F. Emery
Curator, Environmental Archaeology, Florida Museum of Natural History
Professor, University of Florida

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