A Leafy Lifeline

The ancient Maya ate well, blessed as they were with forests teeming with edible plants, insects and game. Isotope analysis of collagen of human bones has led researchers to infer that the Maya consumed significant amounts of maize for carbohydrates and white-tailed deer for protein.

New research, led in part by a UC Santa Barbara archaeologist who has studied Maya food ways for decades, suggests that chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius) also may have been an important source of protein for the indigenous people.

In addition, the findings also “call for a recognition of the diversity of the food sources that made up the Maya diet and not to take such a simplistic view of the contributors to the diet,” said Anabel Ford, a research anthropologist and director of the MesoAmerican Research Center at UCSB.