Reconstructing Classic Maya Economic Systems: Production and Exchange at Cancuen, Guatemala
The research presented in this dissertation concerns preindustrial economic systems, specifically Classic Maya (A.D. 600-900) economic systems, using the site of Cancuen, Guatemala as a case study. The site of Cancuen was strategically located at the interface between the volcanic highlands and tropical lowlands of Guatemala, creating the ideal situation for the passage of highland trade goods, especially stone, on the way to the lowlands. The primary goal of this study was to explore the nature of craft specialization and exchange in the Classic Maya world through the analysis of stone tools and adornments, including jade, pyrite, obsidian, and chert. The nature of specialization and exchange was investigated through the typological, distributional, and sourcing analysis of lithic artifacts from Cancuen. The manufacturing sequences of these artifacts were then compared between households across the site, establishing the degree of control and power derived by the various social groups involved in craft production and exchange. The data at Cancuen indicate that production of prestige/ritual goods was completed in the early stages by domestic nonelite producers and then transferred to elite producers in domestic contexts who transformed them into ritually charged objects for circulation in the political economy. Elites afforded control over distribution of these prestige/ritual objects through a monopoly on esoteric knowledge and social prescriptions, such as sumptuary laws. Although elites did control the right of alienation and distribution of prestige goods and derived power from the ownership and gifting of those inalienable possessions, other social groups were able to challenge the existing power structure and gain power and prestige through the participation in the segmented production of those goods. Ritualized production of lithic artifacts was an important determinant of social identity for all status groups at Cancuen.