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The Dirt on Food: Ancient Feasts and Markets Among the Lowland Maya

  • Bruce H. Dahlin
  • Daniel Bair
  • Tim Beach
  • Matthew Moriarty
  • Richard Terry
Chapter

Abstract

Archaeologists have long tended to conflate political evolutionary stages with Polanyi’s (1957) modes of exchange: bands and tribes with reciprocity, chiefdoms and early states with redistribution, and more developed states with market exchange. According to this scheme, the Classic lowland Maya (Fig. 1) are relegated to chiefdoms or an early state level of political organization with redistribution as the primary, or at least the most ostensible, mode of exchange: control of all or most labor, production, and the dominant mode(s) of exchange were concentrated in a highly centralized authority figure – a paramount chief or king and/or a polyarchy of elite kin groups – who traded exotic goods among themselves. Elites traded with each other while extracting other goods, most importantly agricultural output, from the majority population through taxes and tribute to maintain themselves and a civic/religious infrastructure they symbolized. Those at the top of the hierarchy then redistributed some of these goods down the social ladder in payment for fealty, loyal service, and the like, often at communal rituals and feasts. These Neoevolutionary concepts – bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states, and the various forms of reciprocity, redistribution, and market exchange – are heuristic devices, or broadly conceptualized and loosely correlated classificatory forms of social and economic organization, designed to facilitate cross-cultural comparisons and to fill in holes where hard data are lacking. Obviously, they have been highly useful in constructing models. Therefore, the pocket critique of their application to the Maya that follows is not intended to challenge their utility, nor to rewrite Neoevolutionary theory, but rather to emphasize that these concepts have historically tended to narrow our perceptions and made it difficult to identify market exchange as an important facet of Classic Maya economies (see e.g., Yoffee 1977; West 2002; Sharer and Golden 2004; Rice 2008).

Keywords

Market Exchange Ritual Activity Soccer Field Geochemical Prospect Intraregional Trade 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bruce H. Dahlin
    • 1
  • Daniel Bair
  • Tim Beach
  • Matthew Moriarty
  • Richard Terry
  1. 1.Ancient Maya Environmental Studies CenterShepherdstownUSA

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