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Mayan Economics

Food, Diet and the Mayan Economics


Cacao Tree (Theobroma spp), Brazil

Cacao Tree (Theobroma spp), Brazil

Matti Blomqvist

Mayan economics were based primarily on trade and agriculture. Here are some details of some of that system.

Currency: Cacao beans, copper bells, marine shells, jade beads were used as exchange media, although calling them "currency" is a bit strong, since the production of any of them wasn't controlled by a specific government

Mines and quarries: Obsidian, jadeite, limestone

Lapidary arts: jadeite, marine shell, turquoise, specialized workshops, schist, in an elite context

Metallurgy: Didn't develop in Mesoamerica until 600 AD (Late Postclassic), and then it was west Mexico that developed it

Trade systems: The Maya had a fairly extensive trade network, with obsidian, jade, serpentine, feathers (quetzalcoatl birds), and ceramic vessels being traded throughout Mesoamerica. Trade connections were established with Olmec and Teotihuacan; there were markets in most of the cities.

Polychrome Ceramics: Prudence Rice argued in 2009 that during the Late Classic period, elite personages were the painters of the figural specialized polychrome wares, and the painting of them represented a specialized expression of state control.

Agriculture: Begins in the highlands about 3000 BC, with maize and beans, the Maya were arranged into small communities of farmers by ca 900 BC. First villages had pole and thatch houses and a few community buildings. Fields were slash-and burn at first, then home gardens and raised terraces.

In the Maya highlands, irrigation canals and terraces were constructed to adapt the local environment to agriculture; in the the lowlands, the people grew crops on raised platforms called chinampas.

Cultivated crops: maize (domesticated ca 7000 BC), beans (5000 BC), cucurbits (squash), chili peppers, manioc (3000 BC), amaranth, chenopodium, palms, cacao, vanilla; ramon, avocado (500 BC), agave, tobacco

Domesticated animals: hairless god, turkey, honeybee

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