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19/08/2016, 17:00

American Indians used to have rabbits as their pets

Mutualistic relationships between humans and terrestrial herbivores have played critical roles in the history and development of complex societies. The coevolution of Eurasian and African societies with ungulates, such as cows (Bos spp.), goats (Ovid. spp.) and sheep (Caprid spp.) has resulted in their domestication for transportation, meat, and secondary products, and in drastic transformations to natural landscapes. Fewer large mammals suitable for domestication were available in Pre-Columbian North and Central America, and their absence has led some to explore constraints on the growth of New World cities including the limits of long-distance trade networks and the availability of high-quality protein.

Located in the northeast of the Basin of Mexico, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Teotihuacan covered 20 km2 and possessed a population of approximately 100,000 residents, making it the largest urban center of its time. The site, which has been the subject of numerous archaeological excavations over the past century, presents an opportunity to study human-animal interactions at a major pre-Hispanic city of Mexico. Faunal analyses of excavated materials from Teotihuacan demonstrate that wild leporids (cottontails and jackrabbits) were among the most frequently represented mammals, suggesting their importance to the nutritional and economic history of the city. By using stable isotope analysis of leporid bones from multiple locations across the urban core, this study produces quantitative data on the diet and ecology of these small mammals in an effort to contribute to our growing knowledge of the importance of human-animal interactions at an ancient urban center.

The high population at Teotihuacan and the overhunting of large mammals from the local landscape may have favored the exploitation of smaller game during the period peak occupation in the valley. Indeed, archaeological evidence indicates that deer were more commonly consumed prior to the rise of the city, but that they were less commonly encountered during the Teotihuacan era, replaced by a broader spectrum of smaller animals. Previous excavations within the urban core hint that cottontails and jackrabbits may have been managed and bred at select locations during the Classic period (AD 200–600). In particular, the Xolalpan phase (AD 350–550) apartment compound of Oztoyahualco 15B, located in the northwest portion of the site (15B:N6W3), contained a relatively large assemblage of cottontail and jackrabbit remains, accounting for approximately half of all identified fauna: 48% using the minimum number of individuals (MNI). Several rooms with high soil phosphate levels in the floor suggest the presence of disintegrated fecal matter or blood from butchering, and a unique stone sculpture of a rabbit was found within one of the three public courtyards of the complex. Rooms 9 and 10 of Oztoyahualco 15B, in particular, display the most evidence of leporid management. Both rooms exhibit high soil phosphate levels, some of the highest concentrations of obsidian blades within the complex, and neither appears to have been used for habitation. Room 9 may have been a location for butchering rabbits as multiple foot and limb bones were discovered as well as 58 obsidian blades and a half-sphere of decorated dolomite groundstone, perhaps serving as an “anvil” for cutting hides. Excavations of Room 10 revealed obsidian blades in all stages of manufacturing and 50% of all the leporid remains from the compound, suggesting its association with leporid butchering. In its southwest corner, Room 10 connected to Room 30, a small rectangular unit (1.20 x 1.25 m) with low volcanic stone walls (Room 30), suggestive of a pen for domestic animal management.

To investigate long-term dynamics of human-leporid ecology at Teotihuacan, this study uses stable carbon and oxygen isotope analysis of leporid bone mineral  from multiple contexts within the city, and from a sample of modern specimens from central Mexico. Both spatial and temporal scales are considered, attempting to situate the dynamics of human-leporid interactions within their historical and ecological contexts. More specifically, stable isotope data are used to test the hypothesis that leporids from Oztoyahualco 15B were directly managed/bred by humans during the Xolalpan period (AD 350–550), which resulted in their greater consumption of human-cultivated foods than leporids from other contexts and times.

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