Textiles in ancient Mesoamerica served as a critical economic resource and symbolic display of status, wealth, and social affiliation. The economic significance of textiles can be explored, in part, by the archaeological identification and distribution of production tools: spinning and weaving implements. In the Maya area, however, few studies have examined the organization of textile production, and systematic documentation of tool distributions is lacking. This paper reviews previous archaeological research on Maya textile production and introduces new data from the Classic-period site of Motul de San José, Guatemala. These data complement current understandings of Classic Maya household economies by stressing the relative economic autonomy of households from the state in textile production and the heterogeneity of productive strategies within and between different households. Such heterogeneity is expressed, at least in the case of Motul de San José, by more intensive or larger-scale production conducted by large, elite households than by small, commoner households. This finding implies that textile production for tribute was not a central concern among lower-status groups in this area as it was among many Postclassic- and Contact-period commoners in Mesoamerica. Rather, Classic-period Maya royal and elite individuals were able to bolster further their economic and social standings through textile production because they had easier access to resources or surplus labor found in or associated with their own households.
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