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New Publications: Ancient Disease in Panama, and Maya Hairless Dogs

Ceramic plate from Cerro Juan Diaz.

Pathological Clues at Cerro Juan Díaz

Nicole Smith-Guzmán’s latest article reviews the pathologies found on individuals from the large community of Cerro Juan Díaz in central Panama, and what these markers tell us about illness and human activities in the past. Among her findings are frequent indicators of Treponema pallidum, a bacterial infection associated with syphilis and yaws; evidence of frequent cold-water swimming that caused a condition known as “surfer’s ear” in some males; evidence that several individuals used their teeth as tools, perhaps to peel manioc (cassava); and a ritual in which children were buried with ornamental grave goods, often exceeding the amount given to adults. These revelations provide a unique view into the ancient lives of people at this important Panamanian village. Luis Sánchez Herrera and Richard Cooke, directors of the CJD project, co-authored the study.

Smith-Guzmán, Nicole, Luis Sánchez Herrera, and Richard Cooke. 2021. Patterns of Disease and Culture in Ancient Panama: A Bioarchaeological Analysis of the Early Graves at Cerro Juan Díaz. Bioarchaeology International 5(1).

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Earliest Hairless Dogs… in Guatemala?

Sleeping dog vase from Kaminaljuyu (Image: WikiCommons).

Recent excavations underneath modern Guatemala City by Dr. Bárbara Arroyo and colleagues have unearthed a large number of animal bones attributed to ceremonies conducted by the highland Maya. Of particular interest are the large quantity of dogs found in immense ritual deposits, including dogs that resembles the hairless xoloitzcuintli, one of the few pre-Columbian dog breeds that survives today. Currently, these may be the earliest known hairless dogs, dating over 2000 years ago. Marine fish, including snapper and fat sleepers, were also found in the ceremonial deposits, indicating the early highland Maya had long-distance connections with the coast.

Sharpe, Ashley E., Bárbara Arroyo, Javier Estrada, Gloria Ajú, and Emanuel Serech. 2021. Dogs for the Gods, Fish for the Feast: The Ceremonial Role of Animals at Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala. Latin American Antiquity (online first view) 1–21.

Open access article available at: