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In Search of an Ancient Maya Market

  • Bruce H. Dahlin (a1), Christopher T. Jensen (a2), Richard E. Terry (a3), David R. Wright (a2) and Timothy Beach (a4)...
Abstract

Market economies are notoriously difficult to identify in the archeological record. This is particularly true in the subtropical 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 marketplaces can be identified through analysis of chemical residues in soils from open and easily accessible spaces in and about ancient Maya cities. We compared soil chemical signatures from a credible ancient marketplace location in the specialized trade center of Chunchucmil, Yucatan, Mexico to those from a modern marketplace at Antigua, Guatemala. We found extraordinarily high concentrations of phosphorus and zinc in the soil of Chunchucmil's proposed marketplace and the same high concentrations correlate well with food preparation 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.

Resumen

Las economías de mercado son característicamente difíciles de identificar dentro del registro arqueológico; y mucho más en las tierras bajas mayas sub-tropicales de México, Guatemala y Belice, ya que la mayor parte de artefactos utilitarios y de consumo fueron confeccionados con materiales perecederos. Exploramos la hipótesis de que los antiguos lugares de mercado pueden ser identificados a través del análisis de residuos químicos en las áreas abiertas y de fácil acceso, dentro y cerca de las antiguas ciudades mayas. Comparamos las características químicas del suelo de un posible antiguo lugar de mercado, dentro del centro especializado de intercambio de Chunchucmil, Yucatán, con las características de suelo del mercado moderno de Antigua Guatemala. Encontramos altas concentraciones de fósforo y zinc en el suelo del supuesto lugar de mercado de Chunchucmil y las mismas se correlacionan con aquellas del mercado moderno en donde se preparan y venden vegetales. Estos métodos parecen ser prometedores para resolver la interrogante de cómo subsistían las grandes poblaciones urbanas mayas.

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Latin American Antiquity
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