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Ancient Maya Commoners

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    Ancient Maya Commoners
    Book Description:

    Much of what we currently know about the ancient Maya concerns the activities of the elites who ruled the societies and left records of their deeds carved on the monumental buildings and sculptures that remain as silent testimony to their power and status. But what do we know of the common folk who labored to build the temple complexes and palaces and grew the food that fed all of Maya society?

    This pathfinding book marshals a wide array of archaeological, ethnohistorical, and ethnographic evidence to offer the fullest understanding to date of the lifeways of ancient Maya commoners. Senior and emerging scholars contribute case studies that examine such aspects of commoner life as settlement patterns, household organization, and subsistence practices. Their reports cover most of the Maya area and the entire time span from Preclassic to Postclassic. This broad range of data helps resolve Maya commoners from a faceless mass into individual actors who successfully adapted to their social environment and who also held primary responsibility for producing the food and many other goods on which the whole Maya society depended.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79723-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Examining Ancient Maya Commoners Anew
    (pp. 1-22)

    Studies of ancient complex societies are often charged with answering basic questions such as how such civilizations came about, how they adapted specialized strategies allowing them to contend with widely diverse environments, and why they ceased to exist. Archaeologists necessarily rely on theoretical models, sometimes using ethnographically or ethnohistorically based bridging arguments to provide humanistic explanations for these complex and dynamic processes. These accounts determine to a very large degree how social scientists and, ultimately, the general public come to understand ancient societies and the roles different people played in them.

    An array of frameworks, approaches, and perspectives have been...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Daily Life in a Highland Maya Community: Zinacantan in Mid-Twentieth Century
    (pp. 23-48)

    This chapter purposely focuses on Zinacanteco culture in the 1950s, when I first engaged in field research in the highlands of Chiapas in southeastern Mexico (Vogt 1994). The reason: it is being published in a volume on the culture of Maya commoners in pre-Columbian times, and I decided that the earliest systematic description I could provide of Zinacantan would be closest to the daily life of those ancient Maya commoners studied by the archaeologists. Now, a half century later, these Zinacantecos drive automobiles; keep their accounts with calculators; possess and utilize computers, TV sets, and cell phones; and engage in...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Role of Pottery and Food Consumption among Late Preclassic Maya Commoners at Lamanai, Belize
    (pp. 49-72)

    In recent years, ceramic research in the Maya area has adopted a number of approaches to help describe and explain ancient economic, social, political, and ideological organization. New trends in classification as well as those in chemical, statistical, petrographic, and iconographic studies have allowed researchers to expand beyond defining and refining site chronologies to examining more fully the socioeconomic aspects of ancient Maya life (Valdez et al. 1999). Many of these lines of inquiry focus on pottery as a tool for understanding increasing economic differentiation. Maya ceramicists have become concerned with pottery primarily as a form of wealth and for...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Of Salt and Water: Ancient Commoners on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala
    (pp. 73-96)

    The study of commoners poses several problems in archaeology. First, the definition for commoners is a very broad one, normally referring to a person not of the nobility, a member of the common people, and second, it is difficult to clearly identify them on the archaeological record. Arlen and Diane Chase mentioned that the actual identification of “. . . commoners can be accommodated using traditional archaeological data, but with a bit more rigor than has sometimes been used in the past” (1992:12). Specifically for the Maya, they further argue that concepts such as egalitarian and two-class complexes are broad...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Down on the Farm: Classic Maya ʺHomesteadsʺ as ʺFarmsteadsʺ
    (pp. 97-116)

    Several years ago, while interviewing Maya farmers about indigenous soil terms, I was often asked: “What is the land like where you live? Is it good for milpa?” (Dunning 1992a). Such questions underscore a fundamental aspect of Maya life. Both historically and in the more distant past the large majority of Maya have been farmers, a fact that influences almost all aspects of their worldviews and lives. While this fact is, of course, a truism, we sometimes overlook its importance in our pursuit of a more esoteric understanding of the Maya.

    In early colonial Yucatán, Maya society was self-divided into...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Intra-Site Settlement Signatures and Implications for Late Classic Maya Commoner Organization at Dos Hombres, Belize
    (pp. 117-146)

    Mayanists have come a long way in their assessments of pre-Hispanic food production since Sylvanus Morley (1946) argued for the ubiquity of slash-and-burn agriculture. Today, there is a greater awareness of environmental variability and its effect on both agriculture and settlement systems (Fedick 1996b; Pohl 1985; Sanders 1977). However, although our appreciation of the natural “mosaic” within which the ancient Maya were situated has increased, it could be argued that our sensitivity to potential changes in the way people organized themselves to exploit different resources has not kept pace.

    The goal of this chapter is to present a model of...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Heterogeneous Hinterlands: The Social and Political Organization of Commoner Settlements near Xunantunich, Belize
    (pp. 147-174)

    Scholars are moving toward ever more complex models of Classic period Maya society, models that include richly textured views of Maya commoners and their relationships to the Maya elite or nobility (Hendon 1996; Marcus 1995; McAnany 1993). These emerging models are the result of new empirical evidence from the Maya lowlands on the one hand and theoretical developments in anthropology and archaeology on the other.

    The last two decades of the twentieth century witnessed the survey and excavation of many small settlements across the Maya lowlands. The data produced by these investigations demonstrate that the Maya countryside was a heterogeneous...

  11. CHAPTER 8 The Spatial Mobility of Non-Elite Populations in Classic Maya Society and Its Political Implications
    (pp. 175-196)

    Movements of non-elite populations over a landscape have significant implications in the study of political processes in a complex society. They are common means for non-elites to adjust to political and economic circumstances and to resist the oppression by the ruling class and state. The control of the subject population by the state tends to be more difficult when social, economic, and cultural factors allow non-elites to maintain a great degree of mobility. Conversely, non-elite populations with less mobility, particularly in aggregated settlements, are more amenable to state control. Thus, some states systematically try to limit the mobility of their...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Commoners in Postclassic Maya Society: Social versus Economic Class Constructs
    (pp. 197-224)

    The concept of a commoner class in Postclassic Maya society is an evasive one, suggesting that social status position does not vary evenly with conditions of economic life. As many of the contributors to this volume have demonstrated, when economic patterns of household production and local, regional, and distant exchange are compared, commoners are not always easily distinguished from elites. Elites are identified primarily from indicators of social status that are rooted in political and ritual activity. Such indicators include increased residential platform size, the monopolization of certain types of ritual events and paraphernalia, and the control of particular forms...

  13. CHAPTER 10 Methods for Understanding Classic Maya Commoners: Structure Function, Energetics, and More
    (pp. 225-254)

    In recent years of Maya archaeology, we have witnessed an unprecedented focus on Classic Maya commoners through the excavations of numerous humble house mounds all over the lowlands (Gonlin 1993; Johnston 1994; Kovak n.d.; Lohse 2001; Robin 1999; Sheets 1992). These excavations not only represent another dimension of Classic Maya society but provide the long-needed emphasis on the commoner segment and understanding of the general population, which can reveal much about sociocultural evolution (Freter 1988). Even twenty years ago, an entire volume dedicated to this topic would not have been possible, given the same geographical and theoretical coverage. This new...

  14. CHAPTER 11 Maya Commoners: The Stereotype and the Reality
    (pp. 255-284)

    Commoners made up the bulk of Maya society, though for various reasons, I suspect the percentage was closer to 90 percent than to the 98 percent proposed by some authors.¹ Ironically, commoners have received relatively little attention in spite of frequent suggestions that we should study Maya economies “from the bottom up,” building from the household to the palace, from the commoner to the king. All scholars recognize that the labor of commoners was essential to the construction of major public works, to the maintenance of diverse agricultural strategies, to the movement of goods between sites, to craft production, and,...

  15. Contributors
    (pp. 285-286)
  16. Index
    (pp. 287-299)