Study suggests Mayas utilized market-based economics –

by | Jan 5, 2023 | Financial

Rachel Horowitz. Credit: WSU

More than 500 years ago in the midwestern Guatemalan highlands, Maya people bought and sold goods with far less oversight from their rulers than many archeologists previously thought.

That’s according to a new study in Latin American Antiquity that shows the ruling K’iche’ elite took a hands-off approach when it came to managing the procurement and trade of obsidian by people outside their region of central control.
In these areas, access to nearby sources of obsidian, a glasslike rock used to make tools and weapons, was managed by local people through independent and diverse acquisition networks. Overtime, the availability of obsidian resources and the prevalence of craftsmen to shape it resulted in a system that is in many ways suggestive of contemporary market-based economies.
“Scholars have generally assumed that the obsidian trade was managed by Maya rulers, but our research shows that this wasn’t the case at least in this area,” said Rachel Horowitz, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of anthropology at Washington State University. “People seem to have had a good deal of economic freedom including being able to go to places similar to the supermarkets we have today to buy and sell goods from craftsmen.”
While there are extensive written records from the Maya Postclassic Period (1200-1524 AD) on political organization, much less is known about how societal elites wielded economic power. Horowitz set out to address this knowledge gap for the K’iche’ by examining the production and distribution of obsidian artifacts, which are used as a proxy by archeologists to determine the level of economic development in a region.

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