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Unformatted text preview: A TI CLES IN SEARCH OF AN ANCIENT MAYA MARKET Bruce H. Dahlin, Christopher T. Jensen, Richard E. Terry, David R. Wright, and Timothy Beach Market economies are notoriously difficult to identth in the archeological record. This is particularly true in the subtropi» cal Maya lowlands of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize because most utilitarian items and consumables were made of highly perishable materials. We explore the hypothesis that ancient rt'iarltetplaces can be identified through analysis of chemical residues in soilsfrom open and easily accessible spaces in and about ancient Maya cities. We compared soil chemical sit,L natures from a credible ancient marketplace location in the specialized trade center ofChunchucmil, Yucatan, Mexico to those from a modern marketplace atAntigua, Guatemala. Wefouttd extraordinarily high concentrations of phosphorus and zinc in the soil of Cliunclmcntil 's proposed marketplace and the same high concentrations correlate well with food prepa- ration and vegetable sales areas at the modern marketplace. These methods hold promise in resolving the vexing question of how large ancient Maya urban populations were sustained. [as economt’as de mercado son iraractertitticamente difi’ciles de identificar dentro del rcgistro arr/aeologica; y macho mas en las tierras bajas mayas sub-tropicales de Mexico, Guatemala y Belicia, ya que la mayor parte de artefactos utilitarios y de con— sumofitcron confcccionados con materiales perecederos. Exp/mamas la hipotesis de aue los antiguos lugares de mercado pueden ser identificaclos a través del anal/sis de residuos qia’micos en las areas abiertas y defiicil acceso, dentro y cerca de las antiguas ciudaa’es Ina-ms. Comparatnos las caractert’stims quunicas del suelo de un posilile antiguo lugar de mercado, dentro zlel centro especializado de intercambio de C hunchucmil, Yucatan, con las cat'acteriisticas de sue/a del mercado mo- derno de Antigua Guatemala. Encontramos altos conceittraciones defosforo y zinc en el sue/o del supuesto lugar de mercado dc C hunchuctnil y, las mismas se correlacionan con aquellas del inert-ado mode/no en donde se preparan y venden vegetales. Estos me’toa'os parecen ser pro/netedores para resolver la intertogante de como subsistian [as grander [Joblaciones urbanas mavas. rchaeologists deduce social and cultural patterns in the past based on formal, func- tional and spatiotemporal patterns in mate— rial culture. Unfortunately, much of ancient material culture was made of rapidly biodegradable materials that never make it to the traditional archaeological record (Cavanagh et a]. 1988). This conundrum constitutes a particularly thorny prob— lem in the humid tropics and subtropics where human populations overwhelmingly used organic materials for their artifacts and even building mate- rials. The absence of perhaps 90 percent of the atti— factual inventory of lowland Maya sites is particularly vexing for our understanding of these ancient economies. As a consequence. we know rel- atively little about the urban economics of lowland Maya sites. Fortunately, phosphorus (P) and some metallic elements related to ancient human activity remain fixed on the surfaces of soil particles and leave per- sistent chemical traces. Geochemical distributions can then be mapped on archaeological surfaces to define areas in which particular activities have been enacted. Application of geochemical tech- niques on contemporary soil surfaces can then used to interpret the ancient human activity pat— terns on archaeological surfaces (Barba and Ortiz 1992; Barba et a1. 1996; Fernandez et a1. 2002; Manzanilla and Barba 1990; Middleton and Price 1996; Parnell et a1. 2001; Parnell et al. 2002a; Par— Bruce H. Dahlin l Center for Environmental Studies, Shepherd College. 443 Turner Road, Shepherdstown. WV 254443 ([email protected]) Christopher T. Jensen, Richard E. Terry, and David R. Wright I Department of Plant and Animal Sciences. Brigham Young University. Provo. UT 84602 ([email protected]) Timothy Beach I 305—0 Intercultural Center. Georgetown University. Box 571032. Washington. DC 20057 ([email protected]) Latin American Antiquity. 18(4). 2007. pp. 363—384 Copyright ©2007 by the Society for American Archaeology 363 364 111:“ et al. 2002b; Smyth et al. 1995; Terry et al. 2000; Wells et al. 2000). Because all life forms depend on P, attention has been paid to compounds with high amounts of it as proxies for organic sub— stances. For example, both total P (Parnell et al. 2002a; Terry et a1 2000) and dilute acid extractable P (Middleton and Price 1996; Parnell et a1. 2001; Parnell et al. 2002a; Parnell et al. 2002b; Terry et a]. 2000; Wells et a1. 2000) have been used to iden- tify the locations of ancient middens and areas of food preparation and consumption. Parnell et al. (2002a) reported that although chemical data pro— duced either by digestion or by extraction proce‘ dures demonstrated similar patterns, extractable P and extractable metals data presented more detail and improved the interpretation of ancient human activities. The present study focuses on the potential of soil chemical residues to identify ancient Maya mar- ketplaces. We chose to explore these potentials in a large (~1.5 ha) open space in the heart of the pre- dominantly Early Classic (ca. AD. 450 - 700; see Mansell et a1. 2002) Maya site of Chunchucmil in northwestemYucatan, Mexico (Figure l ). We were predisposed to think that Chunchucmil had a mar— ket economy, and that this open space was a cen- tral marketplace, as the site’s extraordinarily large population clearly exceeded the carrying capacity of its depauperate agricultural landscape, requiring them to import at least part of their sustenance (Dahlin et a1. 2005). Moreover, this open space (Figure 2) has many locational aspects that are con- sistent with marketplace development worldwide, while at the same time it lacks many of the osten— sible features of ritual plazas normally associated with ancient Maya public ceremonialism. We also discovered some distinctive patterns in the small rock clusters and rock alignments while mapping, and later excavating, within this empty epicentral space as well as some very marked patterning in some preliminary geochemical testing. We then took systematic soils samples from the proposed marketplace and compared phosphorus levels from these soils with soils from other parts of the site to see if these levels were comparable. They were not; the phosphorus levels in the soils taken from the surface of what we now propose was a market- place were several times higher than those of the “background” samples. To help interpret these pat terns we then examined geochemical distributions LATIN AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [VoL 18, No. 4, 2007 in a contemporary marketplace and observed the commercial activities that occurred on the surface there. We found that the geochemical patterns at Chunchucmil’s central open space are best explained as the result of ancient utilitarian market activities (Berdan 2003) involving large volumes of organic substances (or in Smith’s [2003] scheme, “necessities” and “widely used goods”). In Search of Ancient Maya Marketplaces The presence or absence of a market economy is no small issue for it has enormous implications for the organization and functioning of society. As we use the term here, a market economy means the pro— duction of goods or services with the express pur‘ pose of receiving goods or services of approximately equal or greater value in return; that is, at least some surplus production is generated and destined for exchange for other needed or highly desirable items or services rather than for con— sumption within the household or to pay taxes and tribute. Market exchange further implies that 1iveli~ hoods are dependent to some degree on production for exchange in a relatively impersonal milieu. In the ancient Maya lowlands, market economies have proven difficult to distinguish from other modes of exchange: those based on direct consumption by the producer (a subsistence econ- omy), balanced or generalized reciprocity, or redis- tribution (Sahlins 1972: 1 85—230). The importance of redistribution within strongly hierarchical authoritarian regimes as typified by the Mayas’ large civic/religious buildings, hieroglyphics. and art celebrating priest kings have all but thrown the possibility of an ancient lowland Maya market economy deep into the shadows caste by the regal/ritual center model drawn from Fox (1977) (see Sanders and Webster 1988; Webster and Sanders 2001). Exotic items—high value/low vol- ume foreign trade goods—seem to have remained disproportionately in the upper and middle ranks of Maya society, suggesting that individual or household acquisition might well have been gained through elite gift-giving and subsequent redistrib- ution down the social ladders of polity and lineage (Blanton et a1. 2005 ; Smith 2003). Advocates of this view often support the application of this model by pointing to the difficulties of transporting bulk sub— sistence and utilitarian goods over long distances Dahlin et al.] IN SEARCH OF AN ANCIENT MAYA MARKET 355 E I— : an e ~~~~~~~~~~~ ~77! ~~~~ "?‘*—"“'"”"""'“"y ~~~~~~~~~~ ~~—w-—~M-s ,. " E j ,I’ E i: o 5‘ 0' 1’ é \ n .- ) 1’ . l . o ,— I . - I I, :3 1‘2 1’ . .oll ’ ,L r’ :2 a,.°. - C- ,n-s Tzeme o I ’ Celestun n :2) I Salinas if ' L 1.. __ .._.. .__,' __.. _ _ _ . o . . \\\:§ Campeche ' ‘ f: 2: ' . ' r‘v‘ zone boundary o 5 10km “E m j : _, . Gun 2 1 .-1 phi-'- fault I___1_J lmwnums O archeology site My“. &LVAEO l I II o ‘ ’8 ‘\ ¢ 0 o. ‘. 0 °.: °o ' of 3a, a I o a . O .' C ‘9’; ° :' ' C III a; 0’9e ‘1’.“ 0 I \ o I Q ° ° No 0) ‘~ :- (U k C o .0 OChiJnchucmil ° ' kaiptok Figure 1. Map of NW Yucatan showing the location of Chunchucmil and selected natural and anthropogenic landscape features within its region. See insert for the location of Antigua. (Drennan 1984a, 1984b; Sluyter 1993). Susan Kepecs (2003az26l) also opines that much of the colonial reportage of a vigorous market economy has been ignored by culture historians as Spanish hyperbole in the face of a rich agrarian tradition. It is not surprising, then, that, many Maya archaeol— ogists still probably concur with Nancy Farriss’s statement, “All but a small minority of the Maya, before or after the conquest, were simply outside a market economy with little to sell and little need to buy” (Farriss 1984: 156). Although the issue is clouded, a few references to markets in the ethnohistoric literature from Yucatan (Tozzer 1941 :37, 96) arouse some suspi— cion as to the purity of this model. For example, the Late Postclassic Maya were in intimate contact " 366 LATIN AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [VOL 18, No.4, 2007 Figure 2. Central Chunchucmil. Gridlines are oriented to the cardinal directions and are spaced 250 m apart. (courtesy of Scott Hutson) with highland Mexico and some of these ties seem to have been commercial (Kepecs 2003b); the hi gh- land Mexican marketplaces were well developed and well described in many ethnohistorical accounts (e.g., Brumfiel 1980; Diaz del Castillo 1956; Hassig 1982:67—69, 1985; Smith 1979; Smith and Berdan 2003). Moreover, cacao beans, cotton mantles and salt were widely used through— out Mesoamerica at the time of the Conquest as all— purpose currencies or mediums of exchange in barter transactions and/or market transactions (Berdan et al. 2003); these items, plus honey and slaves are known to have been important lowland Maya exports (Kepecs et al. 1994). Their use prob— ably had a considerable antiquity and presupposes the existence of a market economy much earlier. It should be noted, however, that extrapolation of a vigorous market economy back into the Classic period uses the direct historical approach, which is notoriously fraught with difficulties. This is par- ticularly true with respect to a market economy, as Postclassic Mesoamerican culture is well known to have been much more commercialized than ear— lier periods, as characterized by a larger volume and variety of long—distance exchange items or ‘bulk luxuries” that are represented in the archaeologi— cal records of these areas (Berdan 2003; Kepecs 1999, 2003a; Smith 2003). ’ ....¢ Dahlin et al.] On slightly firmer ground, Susan Wurtzburg (1991 :94—97) lists several market-related linguis— tic terms in Maya that may have had some antiq~ uity. Not least of these is k’iwik (or kiuik) which can be translated as “market,” “fair,” or “where one buys or sells” (Barrera Vasquez 19802405). Roys (1939261) culled two terms for merchants from Maya dictionaries: pplom for “professional mer- chants,” and ah’ pplom yoc for “traveling mer- chants.” And, of course, the proto-historic and historic longodistance Maya traders had their own patron deity, Ek Chuah. This deity may have mor— phed from the Classic period God L (Taube 1992:79—88). It is also unclear if this merchant god was comemed more or less exclusively with pro~ tecting those engaged primarily in the relatively high risk business of long-distance trade in high value/low volume prestige goods or if its umbrella also covered low-level producers and merchants trading in less precious stuff, like food. The best that can be said so far is that the historic, linguis- tic, and glyphic/iconographic evidence indicate the existence of late Postclassic Maya marketplaces and a market economy of the kind we are con- cerned with here but these same sources only weakly suggest the existence of a market economy in basic necessities in earlier times (see especially Blanton et al. 2005). At the regional scale, prehistoric market economies have been invoked based on geograph- ical models like central place theory (Cook and Diskin 1976) or the model of gateway communi- ties (Dahlin and Ardren 2002; also see Hirth 1978). However, geographic and locational models sup— posedly reflecting economic considerations can also serve political/administrative, or even ritual, purposes (Smith 1976a, 1976b), and strict confor— mity to one of these idealized locational models is often frustrated by landscape variables that can have an enormous effect on a region’s settlement distributions. At the intrasite scale, market activities have been attributed to large open areas strategically located in or near an urban center and made accessible by means of formal transportation arteries (e. g., Coba, Caracol and Sayil, see Folan et al. 1983; Chase and Chase 2001; Wurtzburg 1991 respectively). The identification of a marketplace might put such a hypothesis on surer ground if structures of the appropriate size and alignment were present. How- IN SEARCH OF AN ANCIENT MAYA MARKET 36? ever, market activities do not always necessitate structures and, even if they were present, they might be rendered archaeologically invisible if they were made of perishable materials or were in associa~ tion with public buildings ostensibly devoted to public ceremonial performances or displays of civic administration. Indeed, marketplace activities are not just confined to economic exchange; just as important perhaps are the social, recreational, and ritual functions they perform (e.g., Wurtzburg 19912101). Some Maya archaeologists have postulated Classic period Maya markets based on formal masonry architectural arrangements that resemble modern arcades (e.g., Tikal, see Coe 1967; Jones 1996). Open spaces at or near the heart of an ancient Maya city (e. g., Seibal, see Tourtellot 1988), espe- cially those that have small stone scatters or align- ments consistently aligned in parallel rows separated by areas that resemble aisles or walk- ways, have also been tentatively identified as the permanent foundations of market stalls (e.g., Sayil, Chichen Itza and Chunchucmil, see Wurtzburg 1991; Ruppert 1952; and Dahlin 2003 respec— tively). However, except for Chunchucmil (see below), these hypothesized architectural markers of marketplaces have so far not been supported by other lines of evidence other than their central loca- tions and accessibility via sacbeob. As counterintuitive as it may seem, it is not much easier to infer a market economy from arti- factual evidence. While it is often relatively easy to demonstrate that durable exotic items have been transported from a foreign source to their point of consumption, it does not necessarily follow that such items were imported using a market mecha- nism; artifacts made from nonlocal materials might have come from direct extraction of the resource by household members, or through reciprocal agreements between kinsmen (or trading partners) who are dispersed in different resource zones, or, finally, from distribution through some sort of hier- archical authority whose function was to gather resources from diverse resource zones through tax- ation or tribute and then redistribute them through- out the realm (Sahlins 1972). Nor does it follow that importation of foreign luxury items, no mat- ter how voluminous, necessarily implies reliance on a market economy for day-to-day utilitarian and subsistence goods. The case for an ancient Maya 368 market economy is strengthened, however, where household inventories are both ample and diverse (Hirth 2000). Other studies have postulated market economies based on artifactual evidence of craft specialization (Costin 1991); this has been convincingly argued at the highly specialized chert production site of Colha (King and Potter 1994; Potter and King 1995), but other arguments would have to be made concerning the manner in which these same cherts were distributed within the contexts of a typical regal—ritual center which, again, stereotypically lack market economies. Lewis (2003) and Kunen and Hughbanks (2003) argue that some instances of household resource specialization based on a set— tlement’s proximity to highly localized and highly valued resources on the landscape can be inter- preted as evidence of market exchange, but circu- lation of such goods need not always rely on market exchange; reciprocal exchange among kin dis- persed in different resource zones is always a pos- sibility, as is dispersion of taxes and tribute by a central authority. Finally, given the rapid biodegradation of most of Mayan material culture, the absence of evidence for craft production or household resource spe- cialization within household production units does not constitute evidence of the absence of a market economy; it is at least theoretically possible that a society could have been intensely specialized in craft production and we wouldn’t have a clue since all their crafts used perishable materials. Indeed, one of the most important problems in recogniz— ing ancient marketplaces is that direct physical evi— dence of in situ artifacts is hard to come by (Foias 2002; Hirth 1998). In situ artifacts will almost cer— tainly be subject to rapid biodegradation if they were made of organic materials (Durston 1976; Foias 2002; Hirth 1998; Tadros et al. 1990:Table 23). Similarly, such expectable features as tempo- rary market stalls, posts for awnings, and tables were probably constructed of ephemeral organic materials (Gorrnsen 1978; Hirth 2000); hundreds of years of decomposition and bioturbation in the thin soils will have obscured these remains. More— over, those artifacts that might have survived are often displaced by the often-observed practice of regularly sweeping up marketplaces. Demonstration of the existence of an ancient Maya market economy requires the conjunction of LATIN AMERICAN ANTIOUITY [VOL 18, No. 4, 2007 many lines of evidence. Taken separately, each line of evidence is a blunt instrument as each may have alternative interpretations. But, even when several lines of evidence converge, they may still amount to weak inference for lack of clean or unambigu‘ ous results of hypothesis testing (also see Wurtzburg 19912170, 246—248). Needless to say, the addition of a more incisive line of ev...
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