Nuts and Bolts of the Real "Business" of Ancient Maya Exchange (Part 1)

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

Studies of ancient Maya political economy are now moving past decades of debate over broad and vague concepts of the "existence" of broadly defined markets, disembedded palace economies, unspecified modes of exchange, and state control versus autonomy or heterarchy. The evidence now emerging from excavations, technical analyses, epigraphy and ethnohistorical analogy allows us to reexamine the building blocks underlying Maya political economies, including specific production activities, mechanisms of distribution (gifting, tribute, marketplace exchange, official bureaucracies), goods of low, middle, and high value, the social identities of producers, merchants, and officials, and variation in the location and function of economic features within sites or regions. Papers in this session illustrate ways in which the nuts and bolts of Maya economies contributed to an articulated and complex economy that bound together particular individuals and social groups across geopolitical units of varying scales. The session’s papers emphasize sound empirical data and clear links to grounded research questions of the sort needed to reconstruct a nuanced model for dynamic Precolumbian Maya economies.

Other Keywords
MayaEconomyPolitical economyMarketsCeramicsMesoamericaPotteryLithicLithicsSoils

Geographic Keywords
MesoamericaCentral America

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-16 of 16)

  • Documents (16)

  • Articulating Economies in the Land of the Ik’ Lords: Evidence for Marketplaces and Multiple Modes of Exchange in the Late Classic Motul de San José Polity (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Matthew Moriarty. Antonia Foias. Ellen Moriarty.

    More than a decade of research in the Motul de San José area has produced a rich corpus of household middens and domestic artifact assemblages reflecting a wide range of social statuses and occupations at a diverse set of local centers. This body of data permits a detailed bottom-up consideration of patterns of production, consumption, and distribution for a wide range of goods within and between member communities in the Late Classic Motul polity. This paper examines the evidence for...

  • Central Peten Jato Black-on-Gray: A Look at Gray wares and Black Wares, Monkeys and Mortuaries (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Prudence Rice.

    Jato Black-on-Gray is an extremely rare Terminal Classic pottery type in central Petén, typically recovered as mortuary furniture. It is a hybrid, combining typical Petén forms with aspects of color, decoration, and use borrowed from wares and groups such as Chablekal Fine Gray and Achote Black, more common in western and southwestern Petén. In particular, an incised monkey image on a Jato vase from Tayasal ties it to common motifs on Chablekal bowls, which are also from burial contexts but were...

  • Commerce, autarky, barter, and redistribution; the multi-tiered urban economy of El Perú-Waka’, Guatemala (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Keith Eppich.

    The ceramic database from El Perú-Waka’ contains the record of the production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of some 50,000 sherds and 200 whole vessels. Patterns and fine details of the Classic Maya economy emerge from this expansive dataset. These include, but are not limited to, the marketing distribution of monochrome ceramics and the redistributive gifting of high-quality polychrome vessels. Unexpected patterns appeared as well, such as the apparent autarky of monochrome blacks in...

  • "Commodification", Exchange, and Changes in Maya Political Economy on the Eve of the Classic Maya Collapse (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Arthur Demarest. Paola Torres. Chloe Andrieu. Myriam Saravia.

    Initial hypotheses on the port gateway city of Cancuen envisioned it functioning within a “normal” Classic Maya economy, albeit with a particular emphasis on import/export of sacred goods, (e.g. jade, pyrite, probably quetzal feathers). After 15 years of excavation and intensive lithic and ceramic studies, however, it appears that after 760 A.D. Cancuen shifted to a different form of economy almost entirely based on commodities production and long-distance exchange. Evidence demonstrates massive...

  • The Economic Landscape of Caracol, Belize (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Diane Chase. Arlen Chase.

    The economies of the ancient Maya did not exist in vacuums; rather, they were interconnected to each other. This paper details the way in which one of these economies functioned during the Late Classic Period (A.D. 550-900). Archaeological research at Caracol, Belize has been able to reconstruct how ancient Maya production and exchange systems were functioning within a large metropolitan area that serviced over 100,000 people. The population of Caracol maintained agricultural self-sufficiency on...

  • Economic strategies in the Puuc Hills of Yucatan (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Tomas Gallareta Negron. Tomas Gallareta. William Ringle. Bey George.

    Some theorists of the ancient Maya economy argue that the movement of goods served to materialize and aid in the performance of what were essentially political relations of power. Such a perspective emphasizes the rigidity and extreme hierarchy of exchange networks, and their essential focus on the ruler's body and his court. Proponents of market exchange, in contrast, see exchange as serving more quotidien processes of supply and demand, and only tangentially political forces. The Puuc Hills of...

  • Equifinalities and the Limits of Soil, Ecology, and Climate Knowledge in Maya History (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Timothy Beach. Sheryl Beach. Nicholas Dunning.

    We read history to understand the present and possible future worlds, but each situation that arises in time is unique. This paradox of history also fits natural science brought to bear on archaeology because often equifinality prevails, meaning there are several paths to the same ends we see in landscapes. These complicate our interpretations, both delightfully and disturbingly. Here, we address both the agronomic and climatic capriciousness of the variegated Maya puzzle. We consider terrace,...

  • Exchange and the economy over time (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Elizabeth Graham.

    Exchange drove Maya economy at many levels, yet the political landscape changed dramatically from the Preclassic to early colonial period. How did exchange networks respond to these changes? Or, we might ask instead if political change or upheaval was instigated by fluctuations or upsets in what might be called the market economy and those who sought to manage or control networks of supply? Did the ability to exact tax/tribute provide rulers and nobles with the economic power to invest and...

  • Flake Deposits and the Missing Workshops of the Maya Lowlands: the Complexity of Classic Maya Lithic Economy (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Chloé Andrieu.

    Technological and distributional analysis of the lithic collections from Cancuen, La Corona, Rio Bec and Naachtun show that the same goods were produced under different production contexts, some specific debitage being deposited in elite cache, whereas the same flakes were also gathered in domestic refuse. This suggests that some aspects of production were carried out in independent workshops, but a part of some knapping actions were given as tribute with particular stages of debitage held in...

  • An Intracoastal Waterway and Trading Port System in Prehispanic Northwest Yucatán, Mexico (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Anthony Andrews. Fernando Robles.

    Archaeological and historical research along the northwest coast of the Yucatán peninsula during the last half century have led to a preliminary reconstruction of a 200 km-long navigable intracoastal waterway between the Celestun estuary and Dzilám de Bravo during the Classic period. Along this waterway are remains of settlements, ports, and port complexes that supported an extensive trade network that connected northern Yucatan to more distant trade networks to the south, via the coast of...

  • Modeling Maya markets (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Eleanor King.

    A profusion of data now supports the existence—long doubted—of markets in the Maya area prior to the Postclassic (C.E. 900-1500). Using a range of approaches from examining the effects of market exchange on artifact distributions to identifying marketplaces within sites, researchers have established that markets were important building blocks for Classic Maya (C.E. 250-900) economies. To date, however, models of prehispanic Maya markets remain nebulous. Scholars continue to rely on frameworks...

  • Rights to Land and Labor in Yucatán during Pre-Conquest and Colonial Times (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Patricia McAnany. Maia Dedrick.

    Land and labor are particularly integral to agrarian economies. The extent to which either is exchanged, sold, inherited, or privatized can shape the dynamics of hierarchy, habitation, and migration as well as exchange. The diverse perspectives on Yucatec possession of land—from assertions of private property to denial of property as a relevant concept—are reviewed for both pre-Conquest and Colonial times. Relevant data include land plot demarcations, historical documentation of land struggles,...

  • Rural economies at agrarian houselots before and after the rise of urban Mayapán (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Marilyn Masson. Carlos Peraza Lope. Timothy Hare. Bradley Russell.

    This paper examines wealth and occupational diversification of rural houselots of the Terminal Classic and Postclassic northern Plains of Yucatan. Eight dwelling groups are compared that were situated in different types of rural/peripheral contexts. Ubiquitous Terminal Classic dwellings in the study area were located at the margins of a modest town (the Rank IV center of Tichac/Telchaquillo) far from cities of any size or political significance. In contrast, Postclassic houses were within one or...

  • Understanding variability in distribution and consumption in low-wealth households from the Classic period (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Scott Hutson.

    This paper explores data on consumption of durable goods in Classic period domestic contexts both in cities (Chunchucmil, Tikal) and rural areas (Ceren, hinterlands of Izamal and Copan). The goal is to document variation in distribution systems across the lowlands. Though some of this variation may be due to the intensity of market systems, other variation may be due to the wealth and resourcefulness of individual households and some due to long-term trends in economic prosperity throughout the...

  • When is Chert More Than Just Chert? Case studies of Elite Distribution of Utilitarian Goods in Northwestern Peten, Guatemala and Western Belize (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rachel Horowitz. Marcello Canuto.

    At a basic level, the lowland Classic Maya economy was a complex web of prestige exchange, centralized distribution, and local market economies. In fact, while it is important not to consider the lowland Classic Maya economic system as monolithic, it is also as critical to understand how it articulated with the different levels of social hierarchy. Beyond this, we should also make a point of understanding the roles these specific economic systems played in the distribution of utilitarian goods...

  • The Workings of Classic Maya Marketplace Exchange from the Perspective of the Buenavista del Cayo Marketplace (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Bernadette Cap.

    Marketplace exchange among the Classic Maya is frequently inferred from the degree of homogeneity in consumption practices among households of differing statuses. The actual presence of marketplaces among the Classic Maya has been a point of debate, but recent empirically based investigations at a few Lowland sites have provided evidence for their existence. The Late Classic marketplace located in the East Plaza of Buenavista del Cayo, Belize is such an example. Examination of marketplace...