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Early Mexican civilization may have bred rabbits and hares

Domesticated rabbits could have provided early Mexicans with fur, meat and bones for tool making.

By
Brooks Hays
Scientists have previously uncovered the remains of a rabbit sculpture. The monument was unearthed in the Oztoyahualco compound of Teotihuacan. Photo by F. Botas/PLOS
Scientists have previously uncovered the remains of a rabbit sculpture. The monument was unearthed in the Oztoyahualco compound of Teotihuacan. Photo by F. Botas/PLOS

MEXICO CITY, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- New isotopic analysis suggests the ancient people of Teotihuacan -- the pre-Hispanic Mexican civilization which lasted from A.D. 1 to 600 -- may have bred and managed rabbits and hares.

Archaeologists have previously found evidence of animal butchering as well as a rabbit sculpture among the ruins of Teotihuacan. More recently, scientists with the University of California, San Diego set out to find evidence of animal husbandry.

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Compared to other parts of the world, Mesoamerica boasts few large, easily domesticated mammals. Wild rabbits may have been one of the only options.

Researchers measured carbon and oxygen isotope levels in 134 rabbit and hare bone specimens unearthed in Teotihuacan. The isotope levels were compared to those measured in 13 modern wild specimens from central Mexico.

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The analysis showed rabbits and hares from Teotihuacan ate a large amount of domesticated crops like maize.

It's possible the rabbits simply raided local farms for food, but researchers say the significant isotope differences may also be evidence of a deliberate rabbit breeding and management practice among early Mexican peoples. Domesticated rabbits could have provided early Mexicans with fur, meat and bones for tool making.

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"Because no large mammals such as goats, cows, or horses were available for domestication in pre-Hispanic Mexico, many assume that Native Americans did not have as intensive human-animal relationships as did societies of the Old World," researcher Andrew Somerville said in a news release. "Our results suggest that citizens of the ancient city of Teotihuacan engaged in relationships with smaller and more diverse fauna, such as rabbits and jackrabbits, and that these may have been just as important as relationships with larger animals."

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The new research was published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

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