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Revisiting Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus capucinus) and the Ancient Maya1

Les singes capucins (Cebus capucinus) et les anciens Maya
Mary Baker

Résumés

Deux genres de primates non humains , les singes hurleurs ( Alouatta palliata et A. pigra ) et les singes araignées (Ateles geoffroyi) résident actuellement dans toute la zone habitée par les Mayas modernes. Michael Coe (1978 , 1989) a suggéré que la civilisation Maya classique (300-900 av. J.-C) associait ces primates, les singes hurleurs en particulier, aux représentations artistiques telles qu'illustrées dans le mythe de la création Quiche Maya , le Popol Vuh, et dans les représentations des hommes-singes scribes, représentées sur les céramiques classiques tardives (550-900 av. J.-C). Cet article réévalue les éléments de preuve, déjà contestés par Baker (1992), des deux documents de M Coe. Notre article adopte une approche de terrain éthnoprimatologique à quatre niveaux. Elle intègre les contenus de l'anthropologie culturelle , biologique , linguistique et archéologique afin de discuter les preuves que les singes capucins (Cebus capucinus ) étaient bien présents dans la région Maya aux temps anciens. Nous proposons, à partir de comparaisons interspécifiques de caractéristiques morphologiques et comportementales et de données linguistiques, que les singes capucins sont bien dans les représentations des "singes" scribes. Bien que la plupart de la littérature précédente se soit focalisée sur le terme Hunbatz pour déterminer lesquels des singes étaient représentés, nous suggérons ici que le terme k'oy devrait être utilisé en remplacement.

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1 Introduction

  • 1  Vincent Leblan is entirely to thank for recognizing this early work and asking me to revisit the s (...)

1This paper begins at the time of creation. According to the Popol Vuh, the Quiché Maya creation myth, in the earliest time there was only still, silent sky and sea. Heart of Sky and Quetzal Serpent came together with other gods to form the earth, mountains, valleys and rivers. They gave birth to animals and gave them homes, places to rest. The animals were called on to speak the names of the gods, to revere and worship them, but the animals were only able to squawk, chatter and roar. Needing to be thus honored, the gods then decided to create people made of earth and mud, but these people soaked up water and dissolved; they couldn’t walk and they couldn’t speak (Christenson 2007; Recinos 1950; Tedlock 1985). Next, in consultation with the diviners Xpiyacoc and Xmucanc (grandfather and grandmother deities), they created wooden people, but these humans did not have souls or minds. So the gods had them beaten and disfigured before sending a deluge of heavy rain. The wooden people turned into spider monkeys (k’oy): their descendants are the monkeys which live in the forests today and accounts for the resemblance between monkeys and humans (Christenson 2007).

2Before recounting the third and successful creation of humans from corn, the myth goes on to tell the story of the descendants of Xpiyacoc and Xmucanc. Of particular interest in this paper, it discusses the lives of two sets of twins who were also half-brothers. The first set of twins were named Hunbatz and Hunchouén; they grew to be very wise and they became great musicians, singers, flautists, painters, and carvers. The second set of twins were named Hunahpú and Xbalanqué, the Hero Twins. The myth gives focus to discord between the two sets of twins: The older brothers, Hunbatz and Hunchouén, were lazy and envious of their younger brothers and abused them. The younger brothers were forced to grow and hunt food, but they were permitted to eat only after everyone had eaten their share (Christenson 2007; Recinos 1950; Tedlock 1985).

3The younger brothers, Hunahpú and Xbalanqué, got tired of being abused, so they tricked their older brothers. They told them they had shot a bird which was stuck in a tree and they asked the older brothers to climb up and get it. As Hunbatz and Hunchouén climbed, the tree began to grow, bigger and bigger. Hunbatz and Hunchouén were afraid they would fall, so the younger brothers told them to loosen their loincloths and tie them to a tree branch. As they did, their loincloths became tails and Hunbatz and Hunchouén turned into spider monkeys (k’oy).

4When the Hero Twins returned home, their grandmother was distraught over the loss of Hunbatz and Hunchouén. Hunahpú and Xbalanqué reassured her saying they would call the older brothers back, but only as a trial for their grandmother: she must not laugh when she saw them as monkeys. The Hero twins played the song of “Hunahpú‑k’oy” (Hunahpú Spider Monkey) on their flutes, inviting the older brothers back. But when their grandmother saw their silly faces, she could only laugh. Hunahpú and Xbalanqué said they would give their grandmother three more chances not to laugh at the fallen older brothers, but each time Hunbatz and Hunchouén returned, their grandmother would burst out laughing. Thus was the fall of Hunbatz and Hunchouén who became animals. But not completely disgraced, they became the patron gods of the arts: musicians, singers, dancers, carvers, painters and craftsmen (Christenson 2007; Recinos 1950; Tedlock 1985).

5Epigrapher and iconographer Michael Coe (1978, 1989) asserts that howler monkeys predominate in the representations of the monkey-man scribes portrayed on Late Classic (A.D. 550-900) funerary ceramics, which depict Hunbatz and Hunchouén. Coe also argues that all nonhuman personifications of the Maya day glyph, kin, are monkeys and particularly howler monkeys (see also Braakhuis 1987). However, as discussed in my previous paper (Baker 1992) there are many problems with his analysis. His conclusions were based on three lines of reasoning: an assumed but erroneous understanding of the distribution of Neotropical primates, limited linguistic data, and a limited understanding of the relevant morphological traits of monkeys living in the Maya region.

6In this paper I revisit my original article (Baker 1992), again taking a four-field anthropological approach to re-interpret the iconography, considering how primatology can inform Maya archaeology. I will be comparing the content I collected in 1992 with more recent findings of Maya archaeologists, linguists, and iconographers. I also question the assumption that the name of Hunbatz, one of the fallen older brothers, should be the focal point of species identification. Instead, I think it is better to focus in on the term k’oy, which is what the fallen brothers and wooden people in the second creation were turned into, and thus spider monkeys may predominate in Maya ritual depictions of scribes and monkeys.

2 Modern distribution of monkeys in the Maya region

7Coe (1978, 1989) stated that there are only three nonhuman primate species in the Maya region (Figure 1): Black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra), mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata) and Geoffroyi’s spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi). It is well documented that A. pigra extends up into the Yucatan Peninsula through Belize and north-eastern Guatemala and A. palliata exists from southern Mexico, through Central America and northern South America (Crockett & Eisenberg 1987; Emiliano and Cucina 2005; Estrada et al., 2004; Fedigan et al., 1998; Fedigan and Jack 2001; Munoz et al., 2006; Rylands et al., 2005). A. geoffroyi overlaps the combined distributions of A. pigra and A. palliata (Emiliano and Cucina 2005; Rylands et al., 2005).

Figure1

Figure1

Map of the Maya region locating Alouatta pigra, Alouatta palliata and Cebus capucinus.  Ateles geoffroyi is located throughout the entire are represented.
Localisation sur une carte de la région Maya de Alouatta pigra, Alouatta palliata et Cebus capucinus. Les Ateles geoffroyi  sont représentés sur l'ensemble du territoire.

8There are verifiable records of white-faced capuchin monkeys, Cebus capucinus, in Honduras (Figure 1), well within the area encompassed by both modern and ancient Maya (McCarthy 1982, 1983; Hollister 1914, 1982). Archaeologist George Gordon (1898) described them in his account of excavations in the Ulúa Valley, Honduras, in which he described the very curious little white-faced monkey[s] in the nearby trees during his 1896-1902 excavations. Additionally, the Honduran parks around Tela and La Ceiba, including Laguna de los Micos, advertise white faced capuchins as frequently -sighted mammals and have been documented therein (see http://sites.wetlands.org/​reports/​ris/​6HN002EN_FORMER_1993.pdf). John Stuart Buckley (1983) did his dissertation on capuchin monkeys at the Trujillo Farm site in Northern Honduras.

9There are controversial reports of capuchins in Belize as well, primarily based on Hollister’s 1914 account of pelts recovered in Belize in 1887 which are now housed at the Smithsonian Institution. It is unknown whether the skins came from indigenous monkeys or if they had been brought there from another location. Sightings of capuchins in Belize have been reported by Hubrecht (1986), Dahl (1984, 1987) and McCarthy (1982, 1993) but these have never been confirmed or replicated. The Temash and Sarstoon Delta Wildlife Sanctuary (www.southernbelize.com/temash.html), a protected area in the southernmost region of Belize, advertises the presence of capuchin monkeys, but this has never been verified. Currently, there are no confirmed populations of capuchins living in Belize.

10This is surprising to many primatologists studying capuchin monkeys (see Fragaszy et al., 2004). There is general agreement that the forests of the Peten, in Guatemala, the Lacandon in Mexico and the Maya Mountains in Belize should support capuchins: the vegetation, elevations, temperatures and rainfall patterns are consistent with those seen where capuchins are known to thrive. Why are howlers and spiders seen in these areas, but not capuchins?

11It may be that capuchins moved from South America more recently than spider and howler monkeys and thus encountered barriers not present during earlier migrations. Forest gaps between eastern and western Honduras, within El Salvador or between north and south Guatemala may have prevented capuchins from moving into these areas. Alternatively, the Montagua River in Guatemala and the Sarstun River in Belize may have been geographic barriers, preventing capuchins from traveling further north (Fragaszy et al., 2004).

3 The archaeological record for monkeys in the Maya region

12It is also possible that capuchins lived in these areas in the past and have become extirpated from Guatemala, Belize and southern Mexico. The archaeological record has the potential to inform us about the paleodistributions of nonhuman primates in the Maya region, but it proves to be problematic. Preservation conditions for faunal remains are poor, so the available record is, at best, limited (Chase et al., 2004). This problem has been exacerbated by the focus on structures and elite artifacts such as polychrome ceramics and jade (Chase et al., 2004; Pohl 1985); most Maya archaeologists are not interested in collecting, sorting and analyzing faunal remains. Kitty Emery (2004) notes that there are few zooarchaeologists who are appropriately trained to work in the Maya region, and there is a lack of appropriate comparative collections (Wake 2002) and limited sampling strategies available to those who are well trained (Chase et al., 2004).

13Reviewing the record in search of remains of identified monkeys is disappointing. The vast majority of identified remains of large mammals are those of deer, armadillos, dogs and possums (Emery 2004, 2003; Carr and Fradkin 2008; Freiwald 2010; Götz 2008; Hamblin 1984; Masson and Peraza Lope 2008). Coupled with the problem that remains are not always completely or expertly identified (Healy 1983; Pohl 1983), modern distributions of animals are often assumed. Maya archaeologists are often unaware that capuchins are currently present, at least in the southern Maya region (Baker 1992).

14In my original article, there were three howler, one spider and four possible howler monkeys reported in the archaeological record. Combining these with those discovered in my recent literature review there are, among the vast amounts of zooarchaeological remains recovered and identified, eleven monkeys. There is one verified howler monkey (Alouatta sp.) and there are four additional possible howler monkey skeletons that have been identified at the Selín Farm site in northern Honduras (Henderson and Joyce 2004; Healy 1983); two howler monkeys were found at the site of Seibal, Guatemala (Pohl 1985, 1990), and a single howler monkey skeleton was recorded in a Belize Valley settlement survey (Willey et al., 1965). One set of spider monkey (Ateles sp.) remains have been identified by Moholy‑Nagy (2004) at Tikal, Guatemala, and one spider monkey individual was identified at Seibal, Guatemala (Pohl 1985, 1990).

15A written personal communication from archaeologist Joseph Ball in 1991 (see Baker 1992) described a mandible of a capuchin monkey (Cebus) found at the Buenavista del Cayo site in the upper Belize Valley. The mandible was found in a pipe drain extending from elite residential quarters. Obsidian hydration dating placed the deposit in the Late Classic period within an estimated range of A.D. 850‑950. The information pertaining to this mandible, however, remains informally analyzed and unpublished (Ball, personal communication 2013).

4 Maya trade networks

16It has been demonstrated that by A.D. 250 ‑ 550 and possibly earlier, trade routes connected lower Central America and Mesoamerica. By the Late Classic (A.D. 550 ‑ 900) and Early Postclassic (A.D. 900 ‑ 1100) trade networks were establish linking Quirigua, the Lower Montagua Valley, and the Ulúa Valley with southern Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, exchanging goods such as minerals, cacao, salt and spondylus shells (Hamblin 1984; Hirth 1988; Joyce 1988; Sharer 1988; Schaffer 1992; Thorton 2011).

17It is thus conceivable that, if not indigenous to the northern Maya region, capuchin monkeys may have been traded in from further south as was done with other mammals and birds (Masson 1999) which were used in ceremonies, in feasting and for personal adornment (Emery 2003). The (illegal) pet trade network today unfortunately includes capuchin monkeys and there is considerable demand for them as captive-reared pets. The Cuna people of Panama are known to have included baby white-faced capuchins and spider monkeys as a source of money in the pet-trade business and both species are hunted as well for food (Bennett 1962). It is worth noting that, although they are present, the Cuna do not eat or collect howler monkeys for pets (Bennett 1962).

18As monkeys are regarded as cute, engaging animals that might be kept as pets today, it is reasonable to imagine them to be so regarded in the past, and there is evidence which supports such supposition: Spider monkeys were traded from Mesoamerica and South America to the Caribbean Islands (Bruner and Cucina 2005) and at the archaeological site Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, Newsom and Wing (2004) reported the major part of a skeleton of a young capuchin monkey, which was probably traded from the Venezuelan mainland. They unearthed 10 unmodified bones and asserted the monkey was very likely a pet from Prehispanic time.

5 Linguistic data

19Linguistic data are an additional line of inquiry that may inform us about the presence of capuchin monkeys in the Maya region; if the Maya were aware of capuchin monkeys, they should have had a referent for them. Coe (1978, 1989) indicates that the name “Hunbatz” is most properly translated as “One Howler Monkey” and “Hunchouén” translates as “One Artisan” or “One Spider Monkey”. This should be easy to assess by simply reviewing Mayan dictionaries, searching for Mayan terms for monkeys and their English and Spanish equivalents (but see below). As seen in Tables I and II, according to the Mayan dictionaries I surveyed, ba’atz and its cognates are generally translated as either generic monkey or specifically as a howler monkey (see also Stross 2008). The term is also defined as rascal, saraguate, aulluador (crier), black monkey, bearded monkey and monkey from El Monte Gueguecho in Guatemala. According to Edmonson (1965), ba’atz is also a term used for spider monkeys.

Table I

Table I

Linguistic compilation for the Mayan terms referring to monkeys.
Compilation linguistique des termes Maya se rapportant aux primates.

Table I (cont.)

Table I (cont.)

Linguistic compilation for the Mayan terms referring to monkeys (continued and end).
Compilation linguistique des termes Maya se rapportant aux primates (suite et fin).

20Ma’ax and its cognates are most often used to refer to generic monkeys, but can be used to refer to spider monkeys (Tables I and II). The term also refers to gorgojo, long tailed monkeys, funny monkey, cat, and the howler monkey characters of Chamula Carnival who wear hats made of howler monkey skins. Ma’ax is also modified in a number of ways (Tables I and II) and can refer to generic monkeys, spider monkeys, and night monkeys. Most interesting is the Iztaj Mayan term ajma’ax which translates as both spider monkey and capuchin monkey (Hofling and Tesucún 2000; Robertson et al., 2007). The term p’urem maac is translated as “a small black monkey occasionally kept as a pet” (Wisdom 1950). It is likely that this term refers to capuchin monkeys, who are both small and black and often kept as pets, rather than howler or spider monkeys.

Table II

Table II

Linguistic data summary.
Résumé des données linguistiques.

21The term K’oy is translated as both generic monkey and spider monkey (Tables I and II), and additional terms that are used to refer to monkeys include xtuch, ch’oven, ixmai, mico and u k’ab che (Tables I and II).

22Surveying the dictionaries is problematic for several reasons. There are between 21 and 35 distinct Mayan languages, each with its own distinct vocabulary and meaning. It is unclear how precise the terms and translations are. While reviewing the dictionaries I found myself wondering about the specificity of the Mayan and Spanish. When asked, “what do you call that?”, did the Maya offer specific or general definitions? And, when receiving information, did the lexicographer have general or more specific knowledge of the local flora and fauna? Either would impact the results and it may explain the predominance of referents for generic monkey, and there is no way for the reader to know which case applies.

23Further complicating the issue is language shift. Dictionaries compiled during the 1900's may not be reflective of earlier Mayan language use and the linguistic context of meaning has likely shifted. Personal knowledge of monkey species and how people think about them is likely quite different today than 400-500 years ago, and thus more recent dictionaries may be less useful when trying to understand how the ancient Maya thought about their world. For example, at the site of Palenque (Chiapás, Mexico) today I have heard Mayan speakers refer to howler monkeys as mono arañas (spider monkeys) and they call spider monkeys alluadores (criers or howlers); the terms for the two monkeys have been reversed.

24Finally, I think it worth considering that we have been focusing on the wrong term. The name Hunbatz can be translated to mean One Monkey or One Howler Monkey, thus Coe (1978, 1989) uses the name of this fallen brother to conclude that it is howler monkeys being depicted on Maya Vases and as the personified k’in glyph. However, it does not follow that the name of the brother refers to the type of monkey he became or to the depictions of monkeys on Maya ceramics. One of the younger brothers is named Xbalanqué, but no one imagines him to be half jaguar and half deer and he is not portrayed as such.

25The Popol Vuh is consistent in referring to monkeys as k’oy (Christenson 2007, see also Braakhuis 1987). The wooden people created in the second creation became k’oy as did the fallen older brothers (Table III). I would suggest that perhaps this should be the focus of our attention: The wooden people and fallen older brothers became spider monkeys. If this were the case, one would expect spider monkeys, rather than howler monkeys, to predominate in monkey-scribe depictions on Late Classic funerary ceramics and as personifications of the day-glyph K’in.

Table III

Table III

Sections of the Popol Vuh which describe the monkeys the wooden people and the fallen older brothers were turned into.  The term k’oy is used consistently throughout.  From Christenson, 2007
Les entités du Popol Vuh qui décrivent les singes individus des bois et leurs frères plus agés. Le terme k'oy est utilisé systématiquement pour décrire les singes araignée. D'après Christenson, 2007.

6 Morphology and behavior

26Perhaps some of the most compelling data to consider are morphological and behavioral traits of the primate species in question. I am not a Maya archaeologist or iconographer; I am a primatologist and this is where I am most effective in the discussion. When teasing apart which monkeys are being depicted on vases and as glyphs I think it is very important to know what traits distinguish the individual species.

27Howler monkeys are the loudest and largest of New World primates. Both howler species show marked sexual dimorphism; males are larger, have larger teeth, and a pronounced beard. Howler monkeys also have the unusual hand adaptation of schizodactyly: the first two digits are opposed to the remaining three (Figure 2). They are also examples of sperm competition, wherein females are typically promiscuous breeders and males compete by producing large quantities of sperm. The males, therefore, have extremely large and distinctive testicles.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Comparative hands.  A:  The schizodactylous opposition seen in howler monkeys (From Baker 1992, Figure 2); B. Dextrous hand of a scribe (after Kerr 717); C: Hand of a spider monkey, note the lack of a thumb (after Kerr #7602).
Comparaison des mains. A: Opposition de type schizodactyle présente chez les singes hurleurs (Baker 1992, Figure 2.); B. main droite d'un scribe (après Kerr 717); C: La main d'un singe-araignée, noter l'absence de pouce (D’après Kerr # 7602).

28Alouatta pigra, the black howler monkey, is completely black (both skin and fur), though some individuals have traces of brown. A. pigra is quite large: their body length is 52.1- 63.9 cm and has a tail length of 59.0-69.0 cm. Females weigh 6.43 kg and males weigh 11.35 kg; female canine length is 6.2 mm and that of males is 7.6 mm. Alouatta palliata, the mantled howler monkeys, are somewhat smaller than A. pigra. Their body size ranges from 52.0- 56.1 cm and their tails are 58.3 - 60.9 cm. They weigh 5.5 -7.8 kg. The canines of females project 2.6 mm beyond the tooth row and those of males project 5.1 mm (Figure 3). Their skin and fur are mostly black, with a side mantle of yellow‑red fringe. The diet of both howler monkey species is predominantly leaves supplemented with fruit and flowers. For this reason, howler monkeys are typically lethargic; rest accounts for about 66-74% of their activity budget followed by feeding and traveling.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Comparative skull morphology: (a) howler monkey, (b) spider monkey and (c) capuchin monkey.  From Baker 1992, Figure 1.
Morphologie comparée du crane: (a) singe hurleur, (b) singe araignée et (c) singe capucin. D'après Baker 1992, Figure 1.

29Distinctive characteristics to be looking for in Maya imagery of howler monkeys include schizodacylous hand opposition, beards, lethargy, howling or screaming, large dangling testicles and possibly a mantle of side fur (Table IV).

Table IV

Table IV

Comparative morphology and behavior of nonhuman primate species located within the Maya region.
Morphologie et comportement comparés des primates non humains localisés dans la région géogaphique Maya.

30Ateles geoffroyi bodies range from 38 - 63 cm, with tails extending 63.5-84 cm; they weigh 7.7-8.26 kg. Canine tooth projection for females and males is 2.6 and 5.4 respectively (Figure 3). A. geoffroyi has black, brown, or reddish upper and dorsal fur, often with unpigmented skin at eyes and muzzle. They have darker arms and feet, and a paler ventrum. The fur on their heads sweeps forward, giving them an appearance of a balding man’s comb-forward. They have very long limbs and tail, and a distinctively large and bulging stomach. They are primarily brachiators and possess long thin fingers and a vestigial thumb. Females have an elongated clitoral hood that is frequently mistaken for a male’s penis. Their diet is focused on fruit, and, as such they are more active than howlers: they spend only 54% of their time at rest, followed by feeding, traveling, and interacting.

31Distinctive characteristics to be looking for in Maya imagery of spider monkeys include the absence of a thumb, very long, skinny limbs and tails, a large bulging stomach, unpigmented skin around the eyes and muzzle, brachiation and possibly an elongated clitoral hood (Table IV).

32White-faced capuchin monkeys Cebus capucinus are the smallest of the monkeys found in the Maya region. Their bodies are 33.5-45.3 cm long and their tails are 35.0-50.1 cm long. They weigh 2.66 - 3.86 kg. They have black bodies with a buff-colored head, chest and forearms. The face is pale pink and they have a black “cap” of fur on their head. Although all three species have prehensile tails, the capuchin tail is shorter and completely furred. They have more robust canines than Alouatta and Ateles (Anapol and Lee 1994); the canine projection of males and females is 2.4 - 7.7 mm (Figure 3).

33Flexibility and adaptability typify capuchin monkeys (Fragaszy et al., 2004; Robinson and Janson 1987). The bulk of their diet is focused on insects and ripe fruit (65%). However, they also consume flowers, nectar, some leaves, nuts, and a wide variety of animal prey including small reptiles and amphibians, shell fish including clams, mussels, crabs and oysters; snails, birds (both fledglings and adults) and small mammals including mice, rats, squirrels, bats, and coati pups (Baker 1998; Buckley 1983; Fragaszy et al., 2004). They are extremely active, resting only 12 - 25% of their day. All capuchins are known for their manipulative or destructive foraging behavior (Fragaszy et al., 2004; Izawa and Mizuno 1977;Terborgh 1983). When searching for insects, they dig out accumulated debris, open leaves, and peel off bark, and break open sticks and other vegetation (Baker 1998; Chevalier-Skolnikoff 1989; Fedigan 1990; Visalberghi 1990; Visalberghi and Trinca 1989; Westergaard and Fragaszy 1987). They are also known to make and use tools to access food items they would otherwise not be able to consume (Anderson 1990; Chevalier-Skolnikoff 1989; Liu et al., 2006).

34Distinctive characteristics to be looking for in Maya imagery of capuchin monkeys include a smaller body, a cap on the head, a pale face, a shorter furred tail and excellent prehension with tool use.

7 The monkeys and scribes in art

35I looked at depictions of monkeys on Maya ceramics, restricting my analysis to vases included in the Maya Vase Data Base (http://www.mayavase.com/​). Utilizing the search function, I identified vases with monkeys and monkey scribes and looked for distinctive physical and behavioral characteristics as listed above. I divided the images into types: howler monkeys and possible howler monkeys, spider monkeys and possible spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys and possible capuchins, generic monkeys, highly stylized or anthropomorphic monkeys, and things that are called monkeys in the literature but which I do not recognize as monkeys. If there was more than one monkey on a vase, I list each individual representation. For example, Kerr Vase #8357 is listed four times because there are four individual monkeys on this vase (Table V).

Table V

Table V

Monkeys depicted on Maya Vases.  Survey of monkeys represented on vases in the Kerr database.  Each number represents a single monkey; numbers listed more than once refer to more than one monkey on a given vase. Vase numbers in bold are monkey scribes.
Singes représentés sur les Vases Maya. Vue d'ensemble des singes représentés sur les vases dans la base de données Kerr. Chaque numéro représente un singe; les numéros indiqués plus d'une fois se référent à plus d'un singe sur un vase donné. Les numéros des Vases, en gras, indiquent des "singes" scribes.

36Some traits were more useful than others. Hand morphology, especially for identifying spider monkeys and possibly capuchin monkeys was effective (Figure 2). Many of the vases depict beautifully rendered spider monkey hands which lack thumbs (Figure 2; see also Kerr Vase #1789; Kerr Vase #9103). Some of the hands were also highly dexterous in appearance, bringing to mind capuchins stripping the bark off small sticks to eat the cambium or using them as probes (Figure 2; see also Kerr Vase #626; Kerr Vase #1491; Kerr Vase #1558; Kerr Vase #3413).

37The overall appearance of spider monkey bodies, the long skinny limbs, long tail and bulging belly, were also quite accurate in depictions of monkeys (Figure 4A; see also Kerr Vase #1181; Kerr Vase #1789; Kerr 6214; Kerr Vase #9103).

38Other traits were somewhat ambiguous. Some of the monkeys had comb-forwards which greatly resemble the fur on spider monkeys heads (Kerr Vase #4691 Kerr Vase #6547), but which might also be the black cap of the capuchin monkeys, while others were less clear, suggesting a capuchin or spider monkey (Kerr Vase #6312; Kerr Vase #8017).

39There were very few monkeys with beards (Kerr Vase #8740) and two with testicles resembling those of howler monkeys (Figure 4B; see also Kerr Vase #5070). Skin and pelage color was not generally useful, there were no monkeys with a mantle of fur as seen on A. palliata, however there was one vase with two completely black monkeys (Kerr Vase #4992). None of the monkeys were ever depicted howling or crying (a highly distinctive trait of howler monkeys) and most of the monkeys depicted were active rather than resting or lethargic.

Figure 4

Figure 4

A. Beautifully rendered spider monkey represented on Kerr 1789 (From Baker 1992); B.  Possible howler monkey (after Kerr Vase #1211); C. Example of a generic monkey depicted on a Maya Vase (after Kerr Vase #6547);  D. Highly stylized and anthropomorphized monkey (after Kerr Vase # 8642);  E. Example of an image which is identified in the literature as a monkey, but which does not resemble a monkey (after Kerr Vase # 4634).
A. Un singe araignée magnifiquement rendu et représenté dans Kerr, 1789 (D'après Baker 1992); B. Probablement un singe hurleur (D'après Kerr, Vase # 1211); C. Exemple d'un singe générique représenté sur un vase Maya (Kerr, Vase # 6547 ); D. Un singe anthropomorphe hautement stylisé (Kerr, Vase # 8642); E. Exemple d'une image qui est identifié dans la littérature comme un singe, mais qui ne ressemble pas à un singe (Kerr, Vase # 4634).

40As seen in Table V, spider monkeys are very well represented on Maya ceramics, 36.1% of the monkeys were spider and possible spider monkeys (Figure 4A). Assuming the wooden people and fallen brothers of the Popol Vuh were turned into spider monkeys, this is not surprising. Generic monkeys were also well represented on the ceramics, comprising 25.7% of the images (Figure 4C). Howler monkeys are poorly represented: I could not find images that were unequivocally howler monkeys, and I was only able to identify five possible howler monkeys (Figure 4B; see also Kerr Vase #505; Kerr Vase #4992; Kerr Vase #8740), only 4.7% of the depicted monkeys. I did find six monkeys that may be capuchins (Figure 5; see also Vase #1558; Kerr Vase #6547; Kerr Vase #8829), 5.7% of the depictions. There were also many stylized or anthropomorphized monkeys (Figure 4D, see also Kerr Vase#2220; Kerr Vase #6738) totaling 17.1% of the representations and finally several odd looking monkey‑like things (Kerr Vase #771; Kerr Vase #5652), and some things I couldn’t identify comprising 10.4% of the images (Figure 4E, see also Kerr Vase #4634).

Figure 5

Figure 5

Possible capuchin monkeys (after Kerr Vase #626; Kerr Vase #954 and Kerr Vase #1558).
Vraisemblablement des singes capuchins (D'après Kerr Vase #626; Vase #954 and Vase #1558).

41The depictions of scribes are also highly variable. Some look like monkeys (Kerr Vase #626) and others are very highly stylized and/or anthropomorphic (Kerr Vase #1225; Kerr Vase #3413). When looking for beards on monkey‑scribes, I found that only 4 of 25 monkey‑man scribes have beards (see also Robicsek and Hale 1981, vessels 63, 64, 66, 67, 68 and Figures 29A-C and 33A). This is surprising and seems an important but missing attribute if it is truly howler monkeys that represent scribes.  One the other hand, most scribes are shown with writing quills, which readily brings to mind the dexterous hands and use of sticks by capuchins.

8 Summary and conclusion

42There are three genera of nonhuman primates currently residing in the Maya area, Alouatta, Ateles and Cebus. Howler and spider monkeys are located throughout the region and, today, capuchin monkeys are restricted to the southern-most Maya region of Honduras. Capuchins may have had a wider geographic distribution in the past or they may have been traded into the northern Maya area. This remains an issue for zooarchaeologists who recognize that there are insufficient numbers of well-trained practitioners, and that better sampling methods and more robust comparative collections for analysis are needed (Chase et al., 2004; Emery 2004; Pohl 1983; Wake 2002).

43The linguistic data are problematic because of the potential of lack of specificity by the information gatherer and/or provider, as well as language drift. I think the most significant linguistic issue may be that we have been focusing on the wrong terms. K’oy, is the term used in the Popol Vuh for the kind of monkey the fallen brothers became, Hunbatz is simply an individual’s name. K’oy thus seems the more appropriate term for understanding the monkey depictions. This assertion is supported by the preference for spider over howler monkeys (Baker 1992; Bruner and Cucina 2005) and the predominance of spider monkeys represented on Maya ceremonial vases.

44That the majority of depictions of monkeys on Maya vases are either spider monkeys or generic monkeys is not a surprise when considering how the Maya may regard each primate species. Howler monkeys are generally lethargic and loud and they are rarely kept as pets. Spider monkeys are more active, graceful, and curious, and they are more frequently kept as pets (see also Bruner and Cucina 2005). It seems likely that painters of the Maya polychrome vases, who would have been among the elite, would have direct experience with monkeys in and around the royal courts rather than monkeys in the forests, and that the monkeys kept around the living structures would have been spider monkeys or possibly capuchin monkeys.

45Morphological and behavioral data can be used for identifying some animals depicted in Maya iconography and art. In this particular case primatologists can play an important role in informing Maya archaeologists, epigraphers and iconographers: we may not be as familiar with the Maya and their (pre)history, but we do know about monkeys in the Maya region. I look forward to more integrative, ethnoprimatological research in this area, drawing on the human-nonhuman primate interface (Fuentes and Hockings 2010). In this respect there is a paucity of ethnographic data focusing on how the modern Maya think about the monkeys in their forests.

46It is curious that there are so few monkey bones in the archaeological record, especially because monkeys are and have been culturally important: they are a recurring theme in the Quiche Maya creation myth which recognizes monkeys as their ancestors, there are folktales and ceremonial dances in which monkeys are the central players, they are the patron gods of scribes, artisans, artists and seers, and they are likely regarded as animal spirits of the Maya (Bruner and Cucina 2005; Santos‑Fita et al., 2012). It seems quite likely that the ancient Maya would have eaten monkeys, as is done today and indicating a preference to spider monkey meat over that of howler monkeys (Bruner and Cucina 2005; Santos‑Fita et al., 2012), certainly they were present in the forested areas and possibly kept as pets in the elite courts. The Maya keep the bones of important animals in caves for ritual uses but, to date, there are no monkeys in these records (Brown 2005; Emery 2004; Emery and Brown 2012; Pohl 1983).

47Taking an ethnoprimatological and holistic approach is necessary to resolve this puzzle. While the archaeological record is weak and unable to resolve whether or not capuchin monkeys resided further north in the Maya region, the evidence for their trade is compelling: since the Maya traded for other animals, and since capuchins were traded as pets further south, it seems plausible that capuchins may have been traded to the northern Maya region as well. The linguistic data are powerful in that they demonstrate awareness of capuchin monkeys in the naming of them. The morphological and behavioral data are perhaps the most significant data. Hunbatz and Hunchouén became the patron gods of musicians, singers, dancers, carvers, painters and craftsmen. There are images which very much resemble capuchin monkeys represented as scribes on Maya vases. The older brothers and monkey scribes are depicted holding styluses and actively engaged in writing. Such images are very reminiscent of the manual dexterity and foraging techniques of capuchin monkeys.

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Notes

1  Vincent Leblan is entirely to thank for recognizing this early work and asking me to revisit the subject and for that I am grateful. I want to thank Scott Fedick for his insight and comments, my work would never get done without his help. Jim Moore, Matthew Jorgensen and Michael Costello motivated me to write the original paper. I am deeply indebted to the Schutt family and workers at the Refugio de Vida Silvestre, Curú in Costa Rica. Without their support and interest I would not know as much as I do about capuchin monkeys. I declare I have no competing interests in this article.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure1
Légende Map of the Maya region locating Alouatta pigra, Alouatta palliata and Cebus capucinus.  Ateles geoffroyi is located throughout the entire are represented.Localisation sur une carte de la région Maya de Alouatta pigra, Alouatta palliata et Cebus capucinus. Les Ateles geoffroyi  sont représentés sur l'ensemble du territoire.
URL http://primatologie.revues.org/docannexe/image/1683/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 553k
Titre Table I
Légende Linguistic compilation for the Mayan terms referring to monkeys.Compilation linguistique des termes Maya se rapportant aux primates.
URL http://primatologie.revues.org/docannexe/image/1683/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 114k
Titre Table I (cont.)
Légende Linguistic compilation for the Mayan terms referring to monkeys (continued and end).Compilation linguistique des termes Maya se rapportant aux primates (suite et fin).
URL http://primatologie.revues.org/docannexe/image/1683/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 102k
Titre Table II
Légende Linguistic data summary.Résumé des données linguistiques.
URL http://primatologie.revues.org/docannexe/image/1683/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 39k
Titre Table III
Légende Sections of the Popol Vuh which describe the monkeys the wooden people and the fallen older brothers were turned into.  The term k’oy is used consistently throughout.  From Christenson, 2007Les entités du Popol Vuh qui décrivent les singes individus des bois et leurs frères plus agés. Le terme k'oy est utilisé systématiquement pour décrire les singes araignée. D'après Christenson, 2007.
URL http://primatologie.revues.org/docannexe/image/1683/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 80k
Titre Figure 2
Légende Comparative hands.  A:  The schizodactylous opposition seen in howler monkeys (From Baker 1992, Figure 2); B. Dextrous hand of a scribe (after Kerr 717); C: Hand of a spider monkey, note the lack of a thumb (after Kerr #7602).Comparaison des mains. A: Opposition de type schizodactyle présente chez les singes hurleurs (Baker 1992, Figure 2.); B. main droite d'un scribe (après Kerr 717); C: La main d'un singe-araignée, noter l'absence de pouce (D’après Kerr # 7602).
URL http://primatologie.revues.org/docannexe/image/1683/img-6.png
Fichier image/png, 58k
Titre Figure 3
Légende Comparative skull morphology: (a) howler monkey, (b) spider monkey and (c) capuchin monkey.  From Baker 1992, Figure 1.Morphologie comparée du crane: (a) singe hurleur, (b) singe araignée et (c) singe capucin. D'après Baker 1992, Figure 1.
URL http://primatologie.revues.org/docannexe/image/1683/img-7.png
Fichier image/png, 153k
Titre Table IV
Légende Comparative morphology and behavior of nonhuman primate species located within the Maya region.Morphologie et comportement comparés des primates non humains localisés dans la région géogaphique Maya.
URL http://primatologie.revues.org/docannexe/image/1683/img-8.png
Fichier image/png, 66k
Titre Table V
Légende Monkeys depicted on Maya Vases.  Survey of monkeys represented on vases in the Kerr database.  Each number represents a single monkey; numbers listed more than once refer to more than one monkey on a given vase. Vase numbers in bold are monkey scribes.Singes représentés sur les Vases Maya. Vue d'ensemble des singes représentés sur les vases dans la base de données Kerr. Chaque numéro représente un singe; les numéros indiqués plus d'une fois se référent à plus d'un singe sur un vase donné. Les numéros des Vases, en gras, indiquent des "singes" scribes.
URL http://primatologie.revues.org/docannexe/image/1683/img-9.png
Fichier image/png, 86k
Titre Figure 4
Légende A. Beautifully rendered spider monkey represented on Kerr 1789 (From Baker 1992); B.  Possible howler monkey (after Kerr Vase #1211); C. Example of a generic monkey depicted on a Maya Vase (after Kerr Vase #6547);  D. Highly stylized and anthropomorphized monkey (after Kerr Vase # 8642);  E. Example of an image which is identified in the literature as a monkey, but which does not resemble a monkey (after Kerr Vase # 4634).A. Un singe araignée magnifiquement rendu et représenté dans Kerr, 1789 (D'après Baker 1992); B. Probablement un singe hurleur (D'après Kerr, Vase # 1211); C. Exemple d'un singe générique représenté sur un vase Maya (Kerr, Vase # 6547 ); D. Un singe anthropomorphe hautement stylisé (Kerr, Vase # 8642); E. Exemple d'une image qui est identifié dans la littérature comme un singe, mais qui ne ressemble pas à un singe (Kerr, Vase # 4634).
URL http://primatologie.revues.org/docannexe/image/1683/img-10.png
Fichier image/png, 126k
Titre Figure 5
Légende Possible capuchin monkeys (after Kerr Vase #626; Kerr Vase #954 and Kerr Vase #1558).Vraisemblablement des singes capuchins (D'après Kerr Vase #626; Vase #954 and Vase #1558).
URL http://primatologie.revues.org/docannexe/image/1683/img-11.png
Fichier image/png, 131k
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Mary Baker, « Revisiting Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus capucinus) and the Ancient Maya », Revue de primatologie [En ligne], 5 | 2013, document 67, mis en ligne le 28 février 2014, consulté le 23 août 2017. URL : http://primatologie.revues.org/1683 ; DOI : 10.4000/primatologie.1683

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Auteur

Mary Baker

Anthropology Department, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI 02908
Author for correspondence: mbaker@ric.edu

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