Health Care in the Marketplace: Exploring Medicinal Plants and Practices at Piedras Negras


This is an abstract from the "Medicine and Healing in the Americas: Archaeological and Ethnohistorical Perspectives" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Botanical residues recovered from the proposed marketplace area of Piedras Negras have revealed rich information about healing and medicinal activities of Classic Period inhabitants. Excavations in this sector yielded a high quantity of identifiable plant remains in the same contexts as human dental remains showing evidence of antemortem extraction. The characteristics of the recovered archaeobotanical and bioarchaeological remains, in combination with a high documented density of sweatbath structures, yield new insights into marketplace activities apart from the trade of durable goods.  Our combined evidence indicates that medicinal practices were occurring within the marketplace area and that medicinal plants—and likely services—were a key part of the economic transactions within this sector of the site. With the aid of ethnohistory, we are able to posit healthcare qualities associated with the plant remains, as well as medicinal practices associated with dental care. However, we complicate basic understandings of "healing" with a critical look at how some medicinal plants may have been ritually invoked, even when never directly ingested or applied. The results of this study have greatly changed our understanding of the marketplace at Piedras Negras and likely elsewhere in the Maya area.

Cite this Record

Health Care in the Marketplace: Exploring Medicinal Plants and Practices at Piedras Negras. Sarah Watson, Joshua Schnell, Shanti Morell-Hart, Andrew Scherer. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 451767)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 24847