Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Balkansky, Andrew

Second Advisor

Lapham, Heather


This thesis provides evidence for patterned and pervasive ritual symbolism through use of animals and animal imagery in early Mesoamerican villages. I look at the faunal remains excavated from Early and Middle Formative (1350-850 B.C) domestic and ceremonial contexts at the Mixteca Alta site of Tayata, Oaxaca. I focus on the presence of exotic and locally available fauna including: domesticated dog, fish, turtle, small bird and nine-banded armadillo. By investigating the variable use of these animals in purposeful domestication, seasonal celebrations, autosacrifice, as musical instruments and in conjunction with building dedications, I highlight their importance to understanding broader patterns in the site as a whole. Specifically, I compare the presence of these animals at Tayata to other contemporary artifact assemblages, regional iconography, linguistic data, ethnographic descriptions and ethnohistoric accounts of Oaxaca and Mesoamerica. This investigation of ritual deposits within village-level societies provides a means to understand larger socio-political dynamics in this region. Based on the evidence provided, the use of animals in ritual activity at Tayata fits into larger spatial and temporal patterns of local and exotic faunal assemblages seen throughout Formative Mesoamerica. The importance of ritual activity is seen in the association of these animals within residential, ceremonial and elite deposits across multiple sites, indicating an increase in socio-political complexity as well as the presence of a Pan-Mesoamerican belief system during the Early and Middle Formative Periods. This study integrates faunal data within larger patterns of cultural activity including architectural style and zoomorphic figurines. Finally, this approach provides a more thorough understanding of the importance of looking at the context of all artifact types, even those which exist in small quantities, to form a broader perspective on a site or region.




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