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Contrary to the early investigators such as Thompson, now we know that The

Maya participated in long distance trade with many of the Mesoamerican

cultures, including Teotihuacan, the Zapotec, and other groups in central and
gulf-coast México, the Caribbean islands and down up to Colombia, as well as
inter-site commerce. Favorable allocation of resources and specialization
facilitated favorable trading relationships. The availability of resources is so
tightly connected to economics that scholars often use economic laws, such as
supply and demand, when assessing ancient Maya commerce. Specialization in
trade can be defined as specialized exploitation of resources by populations in a
specific environmental zone. Concentration in a specific area of commerce in
response to availability of resources was key in determining the products
exchanged between two groups. This long distance trade surely was accompanied
by the exchange of writing, astronomic and mathematical knowledge and any
other cultural manifestation.

Tak'alik Ab'aj in the Pacific Lowlands is a well studied trade center since the
Early Preclassic, the original population apparently arrived during the Early
Preclassic period, and around the Middle Preclassic, the inhabitants were already
involved in a trade network that connected the Olmec groups. The trade network
was concentrated in a lineal route that ran along the boca costa region in
Guatemala and that connected Mexico with El Salvador. By the beginning of the
Late Preclassic period, trade nexuses were switched to the Maya groups, with a
strong orientation towards Kaminaljuyú in the Highlands. The commercial route
was essentially the same, except for the fact that Kaminaljuyu and its trade
connections with the Motagua basin were integrated into the network. This
connection ceased to exist by the end of the Preclassic period. At the beginning of
the Early Classic period, Tak’alik Ab’aj established new relationships with the
Northwestern Guatemalan Highlands, more specifically with the Solano group
that was in a process of expansion from the centers located in the northwest, and
which eventually took control over Kaminaljuyu. At that time, the trade route no
longer continued in line along the boca costa, but instead, it became vertical,
connecting the South Coast not only with the Northwestern Altiplano but
indirectly, with the Central Altiplano now under the control of the Solano group.
Another change occurred during the Late Classic, when Tak’alik Ab’aj apparently
became independent just like many other sites of the South Coast of Guatemala,
such as Chocolá, in the department of Suchitepéquez, and Cotzumalguapa,
Montana and Texas in the department of Escuintla (Bove 1989:80).
During the Preclassic the first truly state in Mesoamérica, The Mirador Basin, was
linked by huge causeways that allowed the exchange of goods between bajos
around 800 BC, thus giving them the strength to build the largest structures
known in the Americas, including the largest Pyramid in the world, La Danta.
For the Maya, the world was a transformational and multi-sensorial place,
governed by analogical symbolic reasoning, where the senses of smell, touch,
sight and hearing appear to have merge in what Houston and Taube (2000) have
called ‘cultural synaesthesia’. Contextualized within sacred landscapes, different
kinds of matter such as Jade, that was believed to belong to rulers, attracted
moisture, had a magnetic quality and bestowed greenness and fertility to the area
around it. Turquoise, similarly, was the property of the gods and was believed to
emit smoke. A defining quality of the Maya world-view is the cross-media sensual
dimension which links objects to landscape, deities, myth and everyday life, thus,
green objects such as Quetzal feathers, Jade and Turquoise, represented the
sacred link between the gods and the rulers. Obsidian, which, in the absence of
metal tools, underwrote the economic and symbolic life of the Maya for some
three thousand years, played a main role in agriculture and hunting, but probably
the most powerful role of obsidian was as weapon and sacrificial blade.

The rise of merchants during the Pre Classic and Classic Periods facilitated
growth in the middle class as well as the elite of many Maya communities. The
rise of a middle class is not so much connected to the merchants themselves, but
rather, to the éintermediary occupations, such as skilled artisans and craftsmen,
who were indirectly involved in commerce. Maya farmers transported their cocoa
beans to market by canoe or in large baskets strapped to their backs, and a
Mecapal, (forehead band tied to the basket). Wealthy merchants traveled further,
employing porters, as there were no horses, pack animals or wheeled carts in
Central America at that time. Some ventured as far as Teotihuacan, introducing
them to the much-prized cocoa beans, it was also traded with the Tainos from
Cuba and the Quechua from South America. Chocolate was made from roasted
cocoa beans, water and a little spice: and it was the most important use of cocoa
beans, although they were also valued as a currency. An early explorer visiting
Guatemala found that: A large tomato was worth one bean, a turkey egg was 3
beans, 4 cocoa beans could buy a pumpkin, 100 could buy a rabbit or a good
turkey hen, and 1000 a slave. Cacao beans were worth transporting for long
distances because they were luxury items. In Maya times, one of the privilege of
the elite (the royal house, nobles, shamans, artist, merchants, and warriors) was
to drink chocolate. although it was not used as currency like in the Postclassic, it
surely was a good trade foodstuff
Recent studies are being aimed to the Trade routes and importance of long
distance commerce in the Maya Civilization, that has been documented since the
Preclassic, and flourished during the Classic period and certainly had a central
role in the Politics, and Warfare the led to the Classic Maya collapse.
Perhaps the most important goods involved in long distance trade to the Petén
Lowlands, were Salt, Obsidian, Jade, Turquoise, Cacao, Cotton, Vanilla and
Quetzal feathers, although prestigious items such as Chert, Flint and Granite
(fine and course grained) used for manos and metates and traded all around
Mesoamerica, for this material only comes from volcanic areas (like Maya
Mountains of Belize and Highlands of Guatemala), for weapons and domestic
tools, Pyrite, Hematite, Cinnabar were used for colors, mirrors, dyes áand
polishing materials, and other minerals such as basalt (and other volcaniclastic
rocks all used for grinding stones), quartz, travertine, magnatite (used for black
pigments), limonite (used for yellow pigments), greenstones (like serpentine),
high-quality clays (common in specialized cave deposits used for high-quality
ceramics). Artistic ceramics, Macaw feathers, Jaguar skins and other animal furs
and of course crops, were obtained locally, also were traded between cities as
exchange goods. The large centers acted as redistribution centers where
merchants obtained the goods to sale in minor cities. The largest known market is
that from Tikal, where all kind of goods where exchanged, but mainly every day
goods such as clothes, fruits, vegetables, salted fish and meat, and domestic
pottery. Even the most skilful and dedicated farmers had to trade some of its
production in order to obtain salt, chocolate and other commodities.
Feathers were used for personal adornment, as was also Jade and Obsidian. The
brilliant tail feathers of the Resplendent Quetzal, that lives in the Highland cloud
forests in Guatemala, the vivid green of the Jade from the Motagua River Valley,
and the sharp and hard Obsidian objects, from the Highlands, that are essential
in the Maya Cosmovision and social system, were rare and therefore commanded
a high price.

The large quantities of spondyllus shells, (both from the Pacific and the
Caribbean), shaped in squares or in necklaces and earrings, found iné the
Preclassic sites of the Mirador Basin, have led some scholars such as Dr.
Richard Hansen to believe that this was the first “currency” used by the Maya,
and also are, a proof of long distance commerce. During the classic, the trade
was made by exchanging goods to obtain whatever someone needs, although a
piece of Jade will buy a lot of goods. Cacao beans are documented as currency
during the Post Classic. The presence of almost complete specimens of marine
shells from both coasts is fascinating, and outlines the importance of the wide
trading connections of the earlier elites of the place, underlining the significance
of El Mirador in the commerce interactions from north to south and from east to
west, between the coasts and the interior of the Maya Lowlands (Sharer

SALT: It is estimated that the Early Classic Tikal's population of roughly 45,000
consumed approximately 131.4 tons of salt annually. Not only is it required in
diet, but it can also be used as a preservative Salt was also frequently used for
ritual and medicinal purposes. It is also believed that salt was commonly used
during childbirth and death. A midwife would offer salt to both parents at birth
and a saline solution was sprinkled throughout the house following the death of a
family member. Veterans of battle often wore armor, consisting of short cotton
jackets packed with rock salt--the equivalent of the modern "flack jacket" and
tight bindings of leather or cloth on forearms and legs. Cotton armor is so much
more effective than any other protection
Three major sources of Salt have been identified for the Petén Lowlands Maya
sites, the Pacific Lowlands, the Caribbean coast and the Salinas de los Nueve
Cerros in the Chixoy river in the Highlands of Alta Verapaz in Guatemala, where
the salt is obtained from a brine springs that flows from a Salt dome, curiously its
color is black, this site produced an estimated of 2,000 tons per year. Other in-
land sources such as San Mateo Ixtatán in Huehuetenango and Sacapulas in
Quiché also have been documented and are still in use. The Salt was obtained in
disposable tin unfired brine-cooking vessels, such as the ones still used in
Sacapulas and San Mateo Ixtatán, Guatemala, that not only evaporated the
water, but made blocks of salt, the vessel was thus, a single use. In The Pacific
Lowlands, platforms were used to obtain sun-dry salt, near La Blanca such
platforms have been documented ca 1000 BC, and are perhaps the oldest in
Mesoamerica. Both methods were used in the production of salt, as has been
proved in Nueve Cerros by Andrews and Dillon. The salt was then transported
using the river routes, such as the Chixoy, that forms the Usumacinta when it
confluences with the Pasión river near Altar de Sacrificios.
Jade and Obsidian: The Jade route was mainly the Motagua river and a recently
discovered land route in the Sierra de las Minas, and then distributed to all the
Maya area and beyond, using canoes in the Caribbean routes, as well as the
Pasión River route via the land route trough áAlta Verapaz. A unique and
valuable trade item tends to become more valuable as it is traded farther from the
source. The incentive is to profit by continuing to trade it until one of three things
happens: an owner can’t bear to part with it, it reaches a cultural area where it is
not valued, or it reaches the bitter end of the trade route. For the jadeite axes
found on Antigua, the second and third may have both applied. Antigua was the
far eastern edge of the Taino cultural area and of the Caribbean island chain.
This finding are significant geologically and archaeologically as it argues for the
primacy of Guatemala as the New World source of jadeite jade and refutes an
assertion that all exotic gems and minerals in the Eastern Caribbean were
sourced from South America, as no jadeite rock is known from there. (See Jade).
The Caribbean route is also the most likely Olmec trade route for Jade. The fact
that Cancuén appears to have prospered for hundreds of years without warfare
and that commerce appeared to play a far more important role in everyday life
than religion contradicts the widespread view among scholars that religion and
warfare were the sources of power for Maya rulers, particularly toward the end
of their dominance, after about 600 A.D.

This is true also for the Obsidian, transported from the El Chayal (25 Km north
from Kaminaljuyú), San Martín Jilotepeque and from the Ixtepeque quarries,
using a river that confluences with the Motagua River, then it wasé transported
from the Caribbean shores, using the Río Azul, Holmul and Mopán rivers
systems, to distribute it to the Major centers in Petén. In El Baúl Cotzumalguapa,
in the Pacific Lowlands, large workshops have been documented, the production
of artifacts was aimed at manufacturing two major products: prismatic blades and
projectile points. Both technological types required specialized skills and a
centralized productive organization. The major purpose of this production was
serving the local and probably the regional demand of cutting tools, throwing
weapons with a cutting point, and instruments for scraping, polishing and
perforating, all of which could be a part of household maintenance activities.
Quiriguá gained importance due to its dominance of the Motagua River route, as
Cancuén a quiet port at the headwaters of the Pasión River. “That river, was
really the superhighway of the Classic Maya world”, states Arthur Demarest.
During the Middle and Late Classic, Piedras Negras, had the dominance of the
Usumacinta river route, substituting Altar de Sacrificios and Ceibal that held this
dominance in the Preclassic and Early Classic. Dos Pilas an outpost of Tikal,
was founded ca 650 AD to control the lower Pasión river route and thus the
upper Usumacinta, and this brought the attention of Calakmul, that led to a series
of conquer wars to hold this important commerce route. The San Pedro river,
another tributary of the Usumacinta, was the northern route to Central Petén and
was dominated by Waka’. Several Jade artifacts have been found as far as Costa
Rica and the distant Island of Antigua. Obsidian was primarily transferred in the
form of spall. The term "spall" refers to large flakes, large flake fragments, and
chunks. In order to make use of obsidian it must be cut and shaped into smaller
fragments that can be used as tools; hence large obsidian workshops are
necessary. It is estimated that Tikal had close to a hundred of these workshops in
approximately 700 A.D. Both transport and treatment of obsidian created a
labor-intensive industry, requiring simple porters, usually slaves, and skilled
craftsmen. The merchants, or Pochtecas, of Teotihucan, obtained access to
obsidian sources in the Guatemalan highlands, as well as major economic
centers, such as Tikal and Kaminaljuyú. The raw material demand for
Teotihuacan was extremely high with its estimated 45,000 population during the
Early Classic Period. The hallmark tripod pottery design of Teotihuacan, found
primarily in Kaminaljuyú, suggests the heavy influence of entrepreneurial
traders. Potter contends Teotihuacan's greatest influence is present in the
increase of long-distance trade

áArt: Prestigious art objects, where made locally, but there were some very
appreciated types such as the beautiful polychromes, specially the "Codex" style,
from the late Classic occupation in El Mirador and Nakbé, the "Ik Site" style,
now known to be Motul de San José, the Alta Verapaz ("Chamá" style) vases and
plates and the "Nebaj" style in Quiché, that made exquisite ceramics, Jade
Pectorals and Stelas (Tetún) commissioned by other cities. Often the work
produced by a particular artist, was heavily sought after by the elite classes of
Maya society, the most renown is Aj Muwan from Naranjo, maker of the 7 and
11 god vases. Cancuén and Guaytán were specialized in Jade handcrafts,
Kaminaljuyú was a major producer and exporter of Obsidian objects, Río Azul
also was an art exporter, including rare metal objects, found as far as
Kaminaljuyú. from the Tiquisate area in the Pacific Lowlands came the finest
incense burners, found in sites all over the Lowlands and Highlands sites. The
pottery and statuettesó most wanted were those to be used in private rituals,
mainly in shrines inside caves or in their homes. During the late classic, the
Codex style from Nakbé was one of the most appreciated. The example of
Aguateca is quite valuable due to its rapid abandonment, we now know that most
artisans were involved in a part time job and in a low scale production, with
some elite dedicated to the control of fine art and exotic goods.
The Maya developed paper quite early in the first millennium, archaeological
evidence of manufacture, trade and use of bark paper by Maya dates from the
early 5th century AD . The Maya named their paper Hu'un, and saw it as a
writing surface when they appropriated their bark-cloth tunics as a possible
means of transmitting information such as Calendars and Mathematics: “early in
their history the Mayas produced a kind of tapa cloth from the inner bark of
certain trees, the main being the wild fig tree *Ficus guatemalana* or Amate,
named Kopo' by the Maya, (Left), This paper, superior in texture, durability, and
plasticity to Egyptian papyrus, was thus perfected anonymously and communally
by the Maya. (Sandstrom and Sandstrom, Traditional Papermaking 13).

Maya Collapse: The level of the central area's dependency on trade can be
witnessed through the eventual decline of the Petén lowlands after the
deterioration of trade routes through the area. Although there are several
reasons for the decline of the Maya, the failure of trade was a major issue, which
impeded prosperity and lead to the abandonment of many lowland communities.
The rise of merchants severely altered the political structure of many ancient
Maya communities. This reverts to resource control and wealth. Commerce
revolutionized the political system of the ancient Maya by allowing the rise of a
different type of political elites: the merchants. Maya elites relied on luxury items,
such as jade and quetzal feathers, to denote high social rank. Commoners used
obsidian tools for daily work and salt for consumption and religious practices.
Both commoners and the elite used Cacao as a form of currency. These
dependencies entrusted merchants with substantial power and wealth. Long-
distance trade was a primary source of prosperity and enabled the ancient Maya
to flourish as a culturally enriched and fascinating civilization and when this
trade was disrupted, it contributed to their Civilization’s collapse
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Trade in Maya civilization was a crucial factor in maintaining cities. The

economy was fairly loose, and based mostly on food like squash, potatoes, corn, beans,
and sometimes chocolate drinks made of ground cocoa beans and water. They also traded
almost any other basic necessities because there was a large need for trade in order to
bring such basic goods together. The types of trade varied greatly, from long-distance
trading spanning the length of the region, to small trading between farm families.

• 1 Development

• 2
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[edit] Development
Because of the readily available resources in most of the Maya territory, small towns did
not need to take part in long-distance trading and limited trade to local bartering and
exchange. Despite the fact that the area was rich in resources, even the most self-
sufficient farm families, which were the vast majority of the population, still had to
participate in exchanges in order to obtain the necessities (the necessities would generally
include some pottery, stone tools, and salt). The craftsmen in the small cities who
specialized in the cities began to grow, so did the need for increased trade. Cities such as
Tikal and El Mirador are two such examples. Tikal, specifically, had a population
somewhere in the range of 60,000–120,000 people, which means it would have needed to
get food and other goods from up to 100 km away. Because of the size of these cities,
they would have also needed a larger amount of control from the Rulers to oversee it.
Eventually the increased trade, and growing cities gave the Rulers more power over their
territory and their subjects.
However, not only the central cities in the empire grew. Because of the increased amount
of traffic through the smaller cities along trade routes, these once isolated cities grew too,
creating a fairly consistent amount of growth throughout the Post-Classic period.
Evidence discovered in the past few decades seems to prove that trade was widespread
among the Maya. Artifacts collected under grants from the National Science Foundation,
the National Geographic Society, and Howard University, show that hard stones and
many other goods were moved great distances (despite the inefficiency of moving goods
without so-called 'beasts of burden'). Modern chemical tests have taken these artifacts and
confirmed that they originated in locations great distances away. There is also
documented trade of goods ranging from honey to quetzal feathers throughout the Maya
The goods, which were moved and traded around the empire, include: Salt, hard stone,
Maize, Honey, Cocoa, and Pottery. And for the elites, such goods as: Quetzal Feathers,
Fine Ceramics, Jade, Obsidian and Pyrite. Textiles were often traded for as well because
they were easily transported.

[edit] Commodities
As trade grew in the Postclassic period, so did the demand for commodities. Many of
these were produced in specialized workshops around the empire, and then transported
elsewhere. Some of these commodities included, fine ceramics, stone tools, jade, pyrite,
quetzal feathers, cocoa beans, obsidian, and salt.
Mostly the main population used the more basic commodities, such as stone tools, salt,
cocoa beans, and pottery. But some of the other commodities like jade, pyrite, fine
ceramics, and quetzal feathers were goods that elite rulers used to show off their power.

Arguably the most important of these commodities was salt. Salt was not only an
important part of the Mayan’s diet, but it also was critical in the preservation of food. By
covering meat and other food items in salt the Maya were able to dehydrate is so that it
would not rot. Salt, for the most part, was produced near the oceans by drying out large
flats of seawater. After the flats were dry, the salt could be collected and moved
throughout the empire.
Chocolate was used throughout the Maya region to make sauces, and for drinks. It was
grown mostly in the lowlands, so it was often transported to the highlands.
Ceramics were produced in specialized workshops, before being traded for other goods.
Often the work produced by a particular artist, was heavily sought after by the elite
classes of Maya society. Ceramics were also circulated through kingdoms, and local areas
as gifts from one ruler to another. This was usually the case because of the strong symbol
of power and wealth the fine arts provided. The ceramics produced were mainly plates,
vases, and cylindrical glasses. When painted, these pots were usually painted red, with
some orange and black.
Rare stones such as jade and pyrite were also very important to the Maya elite. These
stones were relatively hard to acquire, so having such treasures helped them to solidify
their positions in the society. Many of the stones were collected in the highlands of the
empire in Guatemala, so when long-distance trade developed, the Maya were able to
move more of the these precious stones to the lowland cities.Other stones, such as
obsidian, were more common, but were also a crucial part of Maya society. Obsidian was
a strong volcanic glass, also from the highlands, which could be chipped and shaped into
strong sharp tools in order to be used for cutting. In the later years of the Empire obsidian
was moved extensively via long-distance trade routes.
During the early periods of the Maya, much of these commodities were only available to
the regions in which they could be produced, or were naturally available. However,
economic restructuring during the transition from the Classic to the Postclassic periods,
as well as the beginning of trade over water allowed for larger volumes of long-distance
trade to occur, and therefore the commodities were able to reach throughout the entire
Maya region.

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