Isotopic and Iconographic vistas on pumas and jaguar in Ancient Mesoamerican religion and exchange


Monday, April 20, 2020, 12:00pm


a talk by William L. Flash


this event will be host through zoom at the following link

password: 590522



Large cats have been symbols of supernatural and political power for millennia, including in Mesoamerica and the Andes. Fresh archaeological evidence helps contextualize the symbolism of jaguars and pumas in portable and monumental art in Mesoamerica since the Early Formative period, ca. 1000 BCE, up to the arrival of Europeans. Recent research has shown that the skeletal remains of the 16 felids recovered from the dedicatory offering at the “king’s list monument” of Altar Q in Copan, Honduras, included jaguars, pumas, and a jaguarundi, with one large cat for each of the 16 depicted rulers. Isotopic research indicates there was an expansive trade network that conducted these animals across the greater Copan region and even beyond the Maya area. Our recent excavations at the Copan Valley site of Rastrojón have demonstrated that the city’s longest-lived ruler was symbolically linked with the puma. The diurnal, “man-eater” aspect of puma behavior and Ruler 12’s frequent use of foreign imagery led me to re-examine the felines represented in the art of Teotihuacan, Mexico. I believe one of the patron gods was very likely a supernatural puma, based on the iconography of the Sun Pyramid. The study finally led all the way back to the Formative period and strongly supports David Grove’s conclusion that Chalcatzingo, Morelos was considered and labeled as “the Hill of the Puma.”  That mythic charter may have been revived in Teotihuacan, and centuries later been echoed in one part of the Copan Valley. These data provide new vistas on the ecological and symbolic dimensions of felids in ancient Mesoamerica, including that we might want to revisit earlier identifications of “jaguars” in Mesoamerican art going all the way back to the Early Formative period in both the Highlands and Lowlands.