An argument for Classic era Maya market exchange
This paper argues for the importance of complex market exchange in the Maya area prior to the so-called Postclassic “mercantile” period. We suggest that market exchange was foundational to the stability of Classic era polities, and by extension, that it was of key strategic interest to dynasts and their retinues. We reject some of the prevailing dualistic views that the economic activities of royal courts or noble houses were disconnected from the vast majority of production and exchange activities deemed essential for the daily life of supporting populations with the sole exception of tribute payments. Alternatively, we postulate the accessibility and interchangeability of most products through market place commerce, as is well-documented for the Postclassic Period. Correlates of well developed market exchange that are tracked in our analysis include occupational specialization, surplus production, household and community interdependency, and ease of access to valuable goods. We compare these patterns across elite and commoner contexts at Classic Period Tikal to those of Postclassic Period Mayapán. The assemblages at Mayapán provide comparative indices from a city known historically to have had an important regional market exchange system. Similar patterns at Tikal strongly suggest time depth for market exchange, as well as a more complex market system than the solar central place (administered) model that has been most often invoked to characterize Classic Maya market organization.