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Ancient and Modern Maya Exploitation of the Jute Snail (Pachychilus)

  • Paul F. Healy (a1), Kitty Emery (a2) and Lori E. Wright (a3)

Abstract

Although the economic basis of the ancient lowland Maya civilization was principally maize agriculture, throughout their long history the Maya remained proficient fishers, hunters, and gatherers. Research increasingly has suggested early and extensive Maya exploitation of the freshwater molluscan species Pachychilus, called jute by the modern Maya. This report reviews archaeological evidence for use of this stream- and river-dwelling invertebrate and summarizes recent data from the site of Pacbitun, in western Belize. Pachychilus not only was used for dietary purposes, but occasionally was included in Maya ritual deposits. Ecological information on the habitat of Pachychilus is given, as well as a description of its nutritional value and contemporary methods of collecting and processing jute in the modern Maya community of San Antonio (Cayo), Belize. It is concluded that Pachychilus was one minor but widespread element of the ancient Maya subsistence regime.

Although the economic basis of the ancient lowland Maya civilization was principally maize agriculture, throughout their long history the Maya remained proficient fishers, hunters, and gatherers. Research increasingly has suggested early and extensive Maya exploitation of the freshwater molluscan species Pachychilus, called jute by the modern Maya. This report reviews archaeological evidence for use of this stream- and river-dwelling invertebrate and summarizes recent data from the site of Pacbitun, in western Belize. Pachychilus not only was used for dietary purposes, but occasionally was included in Maya ritual deposits. Ecological information on the habitat of Pachychilus is given, as well as a description of its nutritional value and contemporary methods of collecting and processing jute in the modern Maya community of San Antonio (Cayo), Belize. It is concluded that Pachychilus was one minor but widespread element of the ancient Maya subsistence regime.

Aunque la base económica de la civilización antigua de los mayas de las tierras bajas era principalmente la agricultura de maíz, los mayas eran también competentes como cazadores, pescadores, y recolectores. Este artículo analiza la evidencia arqueológica sobre la explotación antigua, por parte de los mayas, del caracol de agua dulce, Pachychilus, un invertebrado habitante de arroyos y ríos. Investigaciones recientes en el centro cívico-ceremonial de Pacbitún, en el oeste de Belice, produjeron evidencia de 3.600 conchas de Pachychilus y manifiestan una dependencia, sobre todo alimenticia, que empieza en el período Preclásico Medio (cerca de 900 A.C.) y continúa por el período Clásico Terminal (cerca de 900 D.C.). La presencia de Pachychilus, llamada jute o tutu por los mayas modernos, está documentada en más que una docena de otros sitios prehistóricos en Belice, Guatemala, y México, principalmente en contextos domésticos en asociación con residencias comunes. El predominio de esta especie de molusco sugiere un papel económico y relacionado con la subsistencia que no ha sido explorado adecuadamente en estudios previos. La especie es descrita y diversas variedades son señaladas. Estudios preliminares sobre el hábitat indican que los caracoles, miembros de la familia Pleuroceridae, actualmente ascienden a millones alrededor de algunos sitios mayas de las tierras bajas, y probablemente durante la era precolombina también. Pachychilus sigue hoy como comida de los mayas en algunas regiones. El análisis de la colección y la cocina de jute en el pueblo maya de San Antonio (Distrito de Cayo, Belice) indica que la práctica está disminuyendo entre los jóvenes mayas. El artículo también examina la evidencia del uso antiguo de los mayas de caracoles en ofrendas rituales, tal como ofrendas dedicatorias, y un estudio nutritivo sobre la carne de Pachychilus revela tener un valor nutritivo comparable a otros tipos de moluscos, tal como almejas y ostras. La colección y el tratamiento de Pachychilus parece ser un elemento antiguo de la economía maya. Se concluye que los caracoles eran probablemente un suplemento de proteína, y un elemento general en el régimen de la subsistencia de los mayas antiguos.

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References

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Ancient and Modern Maya Exploitation of the Jute Snail (Pachychilus)

  • Paul F. Healy (a1), Kitty Emery (a2) and Lori E. Wright (a3)

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