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Ahead of its time? : The remarkable Early Classic Maya economy of Chunchucmil
Bruce H. Dahlin Journal of Social Archaeology 2009 9: 341 DOI: 10.1177/1469605309338424 The online version of this article can be found at: http://jsa.sagepub.com/content/9/3/341

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Journal of Social Archaeology

ARTICLE

Copyright 2009 SAGE Publications (www.sagepublications.com) ISSN 1469-6053 Vol 9(3): 341367 DOI: 10.1177/1469605309338424

Ahead of its time?


The remarkable Early Classic Maya economy of Chunchucmil
BRUCE H. DAHLIN
Center for Environmental Studies, Shepherd University, USA

ABSTRACT Classic Maya sites in the lowlands of the Yucatan Peninsula are generally known for their monumental art and architecture in central sacrosanct spaces, and their political economies are believed to have been highly centralized. The predominantly Early Classic site of Chunchucmil, however, does not t this stereotype. Moreover, even though its urban population ranks among the largest and most densely packed in any Maya site, it inhabits one of the most depauperate agricultural landscapes. These idiosyncrasies have stimulated a great deal of archaeological research, all of which lead to the conclusion that Chunchucmil had a surprisingly commercialized economy. In addition to importing basic necessities, some of which were exchanged in a large central marketplace, its basic economy was built on servicing merchants along the most active Mesoamerican maritime trade route and funneling long distance trade items to sites in the interior of the peninsula. This article summarizes the data leading to the conclusion that Chunchucmils economic complexity rivaled that of the secondary states of the Postclassic Period and therefore was way ahead of its time. It also questions whether the kind of bottom-up approach applied here might reveal more complex economies at other Classic

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Maya sites than the more ardent advocates of the prevailing, monolithic political economy paradigm have thus far been able to concede. In which case, it was perhaps only slightly ahead of its time. KEY WORDS Classic lowland Maya archaeology interdisciplinary studies in environmental archaeology long distance maritime trade preHispanic economic complexity

INTRODUCTION
There has been a long-standing tendency to conate political evolutionary stages bands, tribes, chiefdoms and states with Polanyis (1957) modes of exchange reciprocity, redistribution and market exchange, respectively. According to this scheme, the Classic lowland Maya are relegated to a chiefdom or early state level or political organization, with redistribution as their primary mode of exchange. Control of all or most labor, production and the dominant mode(s) of exchange were concentrated in a highly centralized authority gure, a paramount chief, king and/or polyarchy of elite kin groups, who traded exotic goods among themselves while extracting other goods, most importantly agricultural output, from the majority population through taxes and tribute to maintain themselves and a civic/religious infrastructure that they symbolized. They then redistributed some of these goods down the social ladder in payment for fealty, loyal service and the like. As West (2002) and Yoffee before her (1977) note, however, these concepts are stereotypes and, like all stereotypes, they have their uses but they may not have any pure expressions on the ground. The concept of political economy, or polity-centered, decision-making activities of governing personnel that center around the management of resources deemed germane to the politys macrosystemic welfare . . . (Smith, 1991: 34; also see Scarborough and Clark, 2007), focuses overwhelmingly on the production and distribution of material symbols of power. Support for this top-down model is substantial, starting with the early and enduring attention being paid to the grandeur of Maya art and architecture made by the majority pool of labor to celebrate the elite at the center of the Maya universe. It is reinforced by what most archaeologists would probably concede is an over-representation of the archaeologically most visible kinds of artifacts durable prestige goods which, again, are found predominantly in elite contexts, to say nothing of its accentuation in public iconography and epigraphy which overwhelmingly depict the apparel and accoutrements of the elite class. On the other hand, most

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utilitarian artifacts that might have been made and exchanged in direct or market economies by the majority population were almost certainly made of organic materials, and, given the notoriously poor preservation inherent in the humid subtropics, are almost totally absent in the archaeological record (Cavanagh et al., 1988). These phantom artifacts may account for as much as 90 percent of the Mayas artifact inventory (Dahlin, 2007). This top-down approach, in combination with the elusiveness of organic artifacts, has had the effect of seriously underconceptualizing any other mode of exchange among the Classic Maya. For example, when, in the 1960s (Haviland, 1969), it became apparent that large urban populations such as that at Tikal were simply too large to have been sustained by long fallow swidden, attention was almost exclusively shifted to increasing regional carrying capacities through agricultural intensication (Bronson, 1966; Fedick, 1996; Flannery, 1982; Pohl, 1985; Puleston, 1968; Siemens and Puleston, 1972; Turner, 1974; Turner and Harrison, 1978; Wiseman, 1978). Never seriously considered until very recently was the possibility that critical segments of these urban populations were supplied through food imports and market exchange or a market economy (terms I use interchangeably, contra Polanyis 1944 extreme substantivist position). Moreover, the rejection (often tacit) of market economies was once supported by the well-known difculties of the prevailing tumpline mode of transportation (Drennan, 1984a, 1984b) and the assumption of a high degree of environmental homogeneity (Sanders, 1977); together these notions all but precluded the need for intraregional trade in food stuffs and other basic necessities. These latter notions have been soundly refuted, however (e.g. Dunning et al., 1998; Fedick, 1996; Gmez-Pompa et al., 2003; Sluyter, 1993). Maya archaeologists struggling with the reconstruction of Classic Maya economic systems still prefer the top-down approach of putting ancient Maya economies in the service of political power, rather than seriously entertaining notions of market economies from a bottom-up perspective. As I am using the term here, market economies are exchange systems in which goods and services are routinely bartered and/or bought and sold, and at least two of the factors of production (labor and capital) were freely transacted. Such systems are relatively disembedded from the political economy, i.e. some economic autonomy is allowed within a distinct (but perhaps overlapping) tier or sphere of exchange. As I discuss later in this article, market economies were allowed after the succession of secondary states in the Postclassic Period, but their legitimacy is based largely on eyewitness accounts recorded in the literature of the Conquest Period. Even then, many Mayanists still probably concur with Farriss statement, All but a small minority of the Maya, before or after the conquest, were simply outside a market economy with little to sell and little need to buy (1984:

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156). Nevertheless, this is beginning to change, and Chunchucmil is a case in point. As I argue here, either Chunchucmil was way ahead of its time in having a market economy, or market economies were more common in the Classic Period than previously thought.

CHUNCHUCMIL
Chunchucmil is a Classic Maya city in northwest Yucatan, Mexico (Figure 1). A large interdisciplinary project (The Pakbeh Regional Economy Program, or PREP) working here and in the surrounding region has compiled evidence to the effect that it is one of the largest ancient Maya sites yet known, and one of the strangest! Magnoni (2008a) has conservatively estimated an urban population of up to 42,500 concentrated in an urban area of 20 to 25 km2 and somewhat more in the almost 64 km2 of what we are calling Greater Chunchucmil. This estimate is based on 13 years of broad regional survey (remotely sensed and on the ground), a detailed 11.7 km2 map, close to 850 excavation units into residential compounds and other features (n = 141), more intensive excavations into seven residential groups representing all social strata, and geomorphological, soils and hydrological studies. The peak of Chunchucmils development is now reliably dated to AD 400 to 600, or late Early Classic and early Late Classic Periods (BondFreeman and Mansell, 2006), and the city was almost totally abandoned thereafter. Magnoni (2008b) has documented ca. 20 platforms in and near the site center, some placed directly on top of Early Classic residential units and partially intact remnants of stone fences, streets and sacbeob, or causeways, with a combined estimated Late/Terminal Classic population of ca. 700 inhabitants. The site has suffered very little disturbance over the centuries, providing us the unprecedented good fortune of seeing the organization of a highly nucleated Early Classic cityscape at its peak development. Structure density during the late Early Classic, however, is greater than any known ancient Maya city, and unlike settlement at almost all other Maya sites (which is essentially dispersed), transportation required a honeycomb of streets and narrow lanes. These are outlined by roughly parallel dry-laid stone walls that wrap around almost every residential compound (Magnoni, 2008a). Some of the longest streets start in the countryside and twist and turn throughout the residential districts to converge onto Chunchucmils densely crowded downtown area (Figure 2). Just as intriguing, this gigantic prehistoric city is located in one of the driest areas of the Maya world with a mean annual rainfall of 640 mm and high losses due to evapotranspiration and seepage through the porous limestone bedrock, resulting in a mean annual water budget decit of 600

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Figure 1 Map of the Chunchucmil Economic Region showing the large and diverse resource zones to which the people of Chunchucmil had access. Shaded areas offshore represent recently submerged land forms to 700 mm (INEGI, 1983; Luzzadder-Beach, 2000). Soils are also poor, with bare bedrock estimated to cover 25 to 50 percent of the landscape (e.g. Isphording and Wilson, 1973; Perry et al., 2003) and at least 30 percent

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Figure 2 Map of epicentral Chunchucmil (ca. 1 km2). Some of the longer streets and ritual avenues (or sacbeob) in Maya (gray) converge onto the site center, which includes a marketplace (dark).The dark interrupted ring is an ancient barricade (Dahlin, 2000) that was erected long after most of the site had already been abandoned

of the soils are thin, reddish brown and dense clay soils that restrict nutrient uptake and soil moisture capacity and provoke localized soil ooding (Beach, 1998; INEGI, 1981). As a consequence, agricultural yields are among the lowest known in the Maya lowlands and there is little potential nor evidence for most traditional means of agricultural intensication (Dahlin et al., 2005; Sweetwood, 2008). This disparity between the scarce soil resources and the large urban population was apparent to all of our PREP staff early on in the project (as well as those who came before us, such as Garza and Kurjack, 1980; Vlcek et al., 1978). This encouraged us

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to use Chunchucmil as a laboratory to investigate the very controversial notion that large and dense ancient Maya urban populations sustained themselves by importing a good share of their food and other necessities from beyond their immediate regions rather than relying exclusively, or nearly exclusively, on increasing production of basic goods through intensifying land use and labor, by imposing greater taxes and tributes and centralizing the distribution of those goods through a hierarchical power structure. We wanted to know how much control a central authority exerted over the prevailing modes of exchange versus the degree of autonomy that the majority population had over its own production, exchange and consumption. Thus, what was at issue was the very economic, social and political organization of a remarkably pristine ancient Maya urban place.

NOT YOUR T YPICAL REGAL-RITUAL CENTER


Chunchucmils cityscape provides some of the answers to these questions. For a large Maya site, Chunchucmils public spaces look remarkably secular not places for masses of pilgrims to visit and residents to worship. The site lacks grandiose architecture, great public plazas and sculptural art. While the tops of a number of pyramids are conspicuous against the skyline from almost anywhere in the site, they measure only six to 18 m high, which is relatively small for a major center. It was obviously not for want of a large enough labor force to build the kind of grandiose ceremonial temples, palaces, and acropolises that grace other large ancient Maya centers. Similarly, ceremonies that were performed in huge public plazas for congregations of potentially thousands of attendees at other typical Maya regal-ritual centers were enacted only in the tightly enclosed patios of private elite residence groups for the benet of a relatively small number of people. Patio areas are small, averaging 2000 m2; one patio measured only 550 m2. Moreover, these parochial spaces were, for the most part, deliberately shielded from public view by other still-extant buildings and walls (Dahlin, 2005). Therefore, these were esoteric ceremonies by invitation only (also see Lucero, 2007). There are some empty spaces in the site center that are large enough to have hosted public ceremonies, but they are inhospitable, unimproved broken terrains that often ood after heavy rains. They are hardly conducive to witnessing liturgical dramas performed by priests or kings on the steps or terraces of prominent buildings as they were everywhere else in the Maya world. Nevertheless, there was an obvious interest exhibited in Chunchucmils network of streets and avenues for ushering large numbers of people into the site center. If not for civic/religious performances, then for what? Given the rather mundane appearance of most of these open

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spaces in downtown Chunchucmil, we suspect that they served as gathering places for the members of nearby barrios and neighborhoods. A notable exception, however, is a 1.5 ha articially leveled plaza covered by a thin mantle of unusually rich black soil.

A market economy
We suspected that it was a marketplace. Detailed mapping revealed rows of rock alignments and low rock piles (Figure 3, left). Insofar as they were found on top of a thin (ca. 20 to 50 cm), prepared plaza surface rather than the tops of retaining walls that are often found at other sites holding plaza ll, they give every appearance of having been the foundations of very small ephemeral structures. Their small sizes (approx. 3 to 5 m on a side) and their orderly arrangement suggest that they were not a haphazard palimpsest of domestic houses built over time. PREPs excavations (ca. 380 m2) produced few artifacts (all Late Preclassic or Early Classic except for some Late Classic sherds around a late platform), which, as it turns out, are not easy to nd in ancient marketplaces worldwide, so we sampled the soils to see if chemical residues differed in signicant ways from other soil contexts, e.g. kitchen areas and middens in houselots, streets, other plazas and rural farmland. We also tested the soils at one of the few still-functioning outdoor markets in the Maya area. We were startled to nd concentrations of phosphates of up to 20 times greater than the control soil sites in the rest of Chunchucmil (Figure 3, right) (Dahlin, 2003; Dahlin et al., 2007; Jensen et al., 2002). Our geochemical analyses revealed, moreover, that a band of very high phosphate values is roughly isomorphic with a long row of rock alignments and rock piles. This pattern was replicated at the modern market in Antigua, Guatemala, as rows of market stalls selling food here had very high levels of phosphates as well (Dahlin et al., 2007). Since phosphate is found in all living matter, the only credible explanation for such high phosphate values is that large amounts of food and other organic substances were collected, processed, exchanged, and discarded here for a considerable period of time. By contrast, concentrations of high phosphate values were much lower in other plazas, for example, one in a large elite residential group and in and around the only ball court at the site. In each case, P values were very low except for small but distinct concentrations at the corners of buildings, not in plaza centers (Terry et al., 2007; also see Moriarity, 2004; Wells, 2004). This is where one would expect to nd high phosphate values if the plaza or patio were a venue for feasting associated with rituals of some kind, as this is where food would have been stored, processed, presented, consumed and the left-overs discarded. We, therefore, have every reason to believe that the function(s) of this quite large and open plaza was not primarily to host ceremonial activities and feasting, but a marketplace with rows of market stalls to vend food and other organic stuff among other things.

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Figure 3 The marketplace, with (left) parallel rows of short rock alignments, low piles of stones which are the remains of the ancient kiosks and (right) the distribution of phosphate residues in the soil that have resulted from processing, vending, consuming and discarding large amounts of organic materials over a long period of time

We also used inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP/AES) on the soils and found high concentrations of zinc and iron. These may have resulted from the production or trade in such things as mineral dyes or pigments (such as zinc oxide for white coloration and iron representing ochre for red and yellow); alternatively, they may have resulted from large quantities of foods that are high in these minerals, such as beans, leafy green vegetables and red meat (e.g. venison). Some households even small ones that we tested also had unusual concentrations of mercury, from which the pigment cinnabar is made, and manganese to make black pigments. There are no local or even regional sources of cinnabar and I am not aware of any manganese sources within the immediate vicinity of Chunchucmil, so they were probably imported in bulk. And, one of the marketplace excavations (Op. 15K) showed a slight concentration of heavily used obsidian fragments, presumably resulting from endprocessing of some sort of manufactured good. We have now come to suspect that the small capital investments that were made in constructing and maintaining market stalls represent more or less permanent venues for full-time professional market vendors (perhaps to store their goods overnight or at other times when the market was not in service) rather than for transient peasant producers who might have periodically brought to market small farm surpluses and simple crafts that they made on a parttime basis. In all likelihood, these latter items were displayed on portable surfaces, like tarpaulins, blankets or mats, much as they are in Maya markets today. And, the paucity of public, civic/religious monuments would suggest that if people attending the market were also drawn to the site because of periodic fairs and feasts, then they were of a very different variety than has

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been hypothesized elsewhere (Freidel, 1981). An alternative interpretation of the rows of rock piles and clusters in an otherwise open plaza, as well as the bands of high phosphate concentrations, is that they are the residues of some sort of recurrent feasts or festivals; if so, they have never been observed before. Based on Chunchucmils context within its regional landscape, we can make some pretty good guesses about some of the commodities that were traded here. The city is located on a broad ecotone between seasonally and permanently inundated wetlands to the west and the impoverished agricultural plain to the east, thereby gaining greater access to goods coming from both resource zones (Hixson, 2001; Hixson et al., 2006) (Figure 1). The seasonally inundated savanna immediately to the west would have provided important items like venison and meat from other large edible animals. Not only do the local villagers hunt here today, they also bring back a host of other important goods that do not preserve in the archaeological record, including honey, grasses and palms for cordage and thatching, and even fertile soils brought back to fertilize and mulch their vegetable and ower gardens. The perennial wetlands closer to the coast are home to indigenous and migratory birds and other tropical animals, some with bright plumes appropriate for capes and body ornamentation (e.g. Barrera Marin, 1982; Batllori, 1990; MacKinnon, 1992), and the marine environment of the nearby Gulf of Mexico is, of course, rich in sh and shellsh. Indeed, stable isotope analyses of ve human skeletons from humble residential groups show a diet slightly richer in protein than that of populations living further from the coast (Mansell et al., 2006). Some of these resources could have been gathered directly or traded in face-to-face interactions, but some of them may well have made it to the marketplace as there is room for perhaps as many as 600 market stalls, suggesting a market economy of major proportions (Dahlin et al., 2007). There are also indications that some sort of exchange economy was woven broadly into Chunchucmils social fabric. This is exemplied by the distribution of sascaberas. Sascaberas are articial caves or quarries dug into the side(s) of a sinkhole or rejollada or open pit mine just under the cap rock, usually to a depth of about 3 m (Figure 4). Until very recently, Chunchucmils sascaberas have been little explored as most of the roofs have collapsed, leaving huge immovable boulders weighing several tons. Most archaeological interest in sascaberas elsewhere has focused on extracting sascab or loose gravel for plasters, stuccoes and mortars used in large-scale construction (Folan, 1978; Littman, 1958; Morris et al., 1931; Roys, 1934). But sascaberas have other important resources and uses (see Winemiller, 1996, 1997). For example, sascab is also used as mulch for gardens and, because of the high humidity inside them, sascaberas are ideal for processing agave (or henequen) and other brous materials for clothes, sleeping mats, hats, etc.; until very recently this is where traditional Maya

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Figure 4

One of the 20 percent of households with a sascabera

women wove them. The rejolladas normally associated with them are also used as gardens, orchards and apiaries (Folan et al., 1983; Gmez-Pompa et al., 1990; Kepecs and Boucher, 1996). Sascaberas also provide silicied limestone, and extremely poor quality chert, with which to make expedient tools (Dahlin, 2007; Hruby et al., 2007; Mazeau, 2002, 2003; Mazeau and Forde, 2003). The sources of high quality chert are 30 to 60 km away and transport costs would have made it much more expensive. With so many important resources and uses, one would expect that every household would have a sascabera. But they dont. Only about 20 percent of households have them. How, then, did the other 80 percent of households that lacked sascaberas get sascab and chert tools but through trade of some sort? Another possible traded resource and this one is truly shocking if true was potable water, as access to this living-giving substance was severely limited, particularly in the four to ve-month dry season and given the unpredictability of the precipitation regime even in normal years. Only three reservoirs have been mapped and they are dry throughout most of the year. Despite the fact that ground water is only 3 m below the surface and is not very susceptible to contamination (as underground streams that constitute the Yucatan aquifer ush it rapidly; see Back, 1985; Dahlin and Jones, 1998; Doehring and Butler, 1974; Luzzadder-Beach, 2000; Perry et al., 1989, 2003), less than 1 percent of all households have wells and only four wells are known in what might be construed as public spaces to serve

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as many as 42,500 people. By contrast, most large and better-preserved sascaberas contained wells at the equally large site of Coba, located in the much wetter climate of eastern Quintana Roo, and Coba is also blessed with lakes in its site center (Folan, 1978; Folan et al., 1983). We could have missed some wells while mapping Chunchucmil, but we couldnt have missed that many! Thus, we feel that at least some of the missing wells were placed within the now impenetrable sascaberas. Whether it was exchanged in direct, face-to-face reciprocal transactions with neighbors or through some more formal market transactions, or both, cannot be determined, but both its rarity and necessity stimulates us to think it likely that potable water was turned into a commodity and traded in some way.

DISTRIBUTION OF GOODS THROUGH THE SOCIAL RANKS


Still another line of evidence about the complexity of any ancient economy is the distribution of imported goods throughout all socio-economic levels of society. The higher the level of consumption of imported goods across the social spectrum, as well as their diversity, the more likely it is that those items were obtained by means of a market mechanism rather than through redistribution by the controlling, often stingy, hand of the elite class (Hirth, 1998). Huge amounts of obsidian relative to the amounts found at other northern Maya sites have come out of our excavations (Hutson et al., 2008b; Mazeau, 2002, 2003; Mazeau and Forde, 2003). And, not only were blades distributed more or less evenly among Chunchucmils households, but the recovery of 14 exhausted cores and some production debris from household contexts indicates that the obsidian was probably imported originally by middlemen in the form of polyhedral cores and the resultant blades were either consumed on site or traded out (Hutson et al., 2008b; West, 2002). Although its importation may have been controlled by elite middlemen (Hutson et al., 2008a; Rice, 1987), we can safely conclude that obsidian was not treated simply as a wealth item inasmuch as most of the obsidian blades that entered the site were used and found in middens and other ordinary household contexts. At many other sites, perhaps, the preponderance of obsidian was consumed without using it for utilitarian purposes and taken out of circulation by ritually depositing it in caches and burials. Had we excavated more ritual deposits in elite households, we almost certainly would have found substantially more obsidian sequestered at the top of the social hierarchy. However, the broad-scale distribution and almost universal-use wear of the pieces that we did nd suggest that it was not obtained exclusively by elite redistribution to trickle down through ranked kin groups; rather it circulated within the site through direct exchanges or marketplace transactions.

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A prime example of obsidian consumption is found at the Aak Group (Figure 5, left), a very modest residential group with only four structures and about 1 ha of yard space. Hutson et al. (2008a) found over 670 wellused obsidians here. This amount of obsidian represents a sizable capital investment in what appears from microscopic analysis of the blades to have belonged to tool kits for working brous materials, like agave. Whatever the crafts that were manufactured here, they paid off handsomely, as a burial in one of the small mounds here produced an abundance of jade, spondylus shell, cinnabar and hematite (Figure 5, right).

A SPECIALIZED TRADE CENTER


The question remains, however, what drove this population to increase to the point where it exceeded the agricultural carrying capacity such that they had to depend on a mixed subsistence and imported foods? All of the evidence suggests that Chunchucmil had become a specialized trade center (Dahlin and Ardren, 2002), strategically situated along ancient Mesoamericas most vigorous maritime trade route (Andrews, 1990; Collier, 1964; Pina Chan, 1978). Located 27 km from the Gulf of Mexico, Chunchucmil was in a position to funnel precious imports from distant places as well as to import the low-level local and regional goods upon

Figure 5 The Aak Group (left), a small household of craft specialists who used relatively large amounts of obsidian, and (right) some of the riches found in Burial 2 under one of its structures

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which it sustained itself. It had a port facility, Punta Canbalam (Andrews, 1990; Dahlin et al., 1998), itself strategically situated so as to command the last protected harbor for another 100 km to the north, making it an almost imperative provisioning stop for coastal merchantmen traveling further north and circumnavigating the peninsula into Central America. Moreover, its location was appropriate for a point of trans-shipment and a distribution node for goods entering the northern interior of the Yucatan peninsula. Documenting prehistoric economic systems is notoriously difcult (Foias, 2002; Hirth, 1998). It is normally based on the analysis of artifacts made of durable stuff, a particularly thorny vagary in the tropics and subtropics, where perhaps as much as 90 to 98 percent of all artifacts were made of highly perishable materials that do not preserve in the archaeological record (Dahlin, 2007). That is why obsidian has proved to be so important. For example, most (9295%) of the obsidian has been visually traced to El Chayal in the volcanic highlands of Guatemala (Mazeau, 2002), close to 670 km away, or from the Mexican highlands, which is even further away. Similarly, some ceramic vessels came from, or more likely were inspired by, the mega-site of Teotihuacan, the largest contemporaneous Mesoamerican city. Close ties with this Mexican highland metropolis are evident in a talud-tablero facade on a small platform in the Lool Group, a rather small, private, residential group near the site center. This style of talud-tablero is a signature motif of Teotihuacan (Gendrop, 1984; Giddens, 1995; Heyden and Gendrop, 1980; Marquina, 1964); more eclectic forms were often inspired by monumental structures in other large and important Maya site centers where the elite commissioned such works to ostentatiously link themselves with foreigners with even greater status and prestige (Stanton, 2005). Foreign goods were handled in bulk to and from Punta Canbalam as well as consumed locally, as revealed by a large number of artifacts that all Maya considered highly valuable. These include jade beads, obsidian blades, and ne ware ceramic vessels and gurines. That Chunchucmils obsidian passed through Punta Canbalam is clear from a comparison of the amounts of obsidian between sites in the interior of the Yucatan peninsula and sites on or near the Gulf Coast, showing that El Chayal obsidian was transported by sea rather than by an inland trade route (Hutson et al., 2008a). Nothing is left of Punta Canbalam except a surprising number of artifacts that are constantly washing ashore along a 10 km stretch of coastline, the result of hundreds of years of alternately rising and falling sea levels and shifting currents and beach lines (Dahlin et al., 1998). The artifacts along the beach and offshore are in seemingly inexhaustible supply, despite the fact that shermen and their families from the modern nearby shing villages of Celestun and Punta Arenas casually collect them as mementos when they picnic on the beach as they often do.

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It was but a short haul from Punta Canbalam to Chunchucmil as well as further inland by means of several canals through the estuary. These canals took advantage of natural channels, many of which were known to have been straightened or cut by 19th century hacienda owners (Millet Camara, 1981, 1994), but natural channels were available to the Classic Maya as they discharge the aquifer that underlies the entire Yucatan peninsula (Luzzadder-Beach, 2000; Perry et al., 1989, 2002; Pope et al., 2001). These canals and natural channels would have enabled the movement of large quantities of goods of all kinds in cargo canoes from the gulf coast; Hassig (1985: 133) estimates that cargo canoes can carry up to 40 times what a man can carry on his back with a tumpline. Our survey of the seasonally inundated savanna immediately to the west of Chunchucmil (Hixson, 2001) also revealed an eastwest network of stepping stones many kilometers long that connect various archaeological sites and water sources. Portions of this network are being used by Maya hunters, beekeepers and farmers today. These stepping stones could not help but aid the transport of goods between the interior and the coast during the rainy season. The near-coastal region was also capable of generating its own universally valuable trade goods, including decorative feathers, decorative shell from the reef located a couple of kilometers offshore and stingray spines for ritual bloodletting, as well as honey, cotton and fabric dyes. Last but not least, Punta Canbalam was in a position to control the Celestun Salinas (Andrews, 1983, 1997; Dahlin et al., 1998), the second largest salt works in prehistoric Mesoamerica, giving it a competitive advantage over the even larger salt works on the northern coast of Yucatan. Salt is an intriguing commodity, not least because it is a necessity of life and is used to season food the world over. Just as important for the life of the Chunchucmil region is the fact that salt has long been used as a highly fungible currency in barter transactions throughout the ancient world (Kurlansky, 2002; Weatherford, 1996), inasmuch as innitely varying amounts of it can be used to balance or compensate for the exchange of items of unequal worth. Chunchucmil, then, was in a position to export this valuable commodity as well as to control and manipulate it as currency. If all the demographic, artifactual, geochemical and contextual evidence suggest the operation of a remarkably complex market economy for its time, then I feel justied in speculating that Chunchucmil and Punta Canbalam also provided services, in addition to manufactured products. Service providers are mentioned in the ethnohistoric literature on highland markets (Feldman, 1978; Hassig, 1985; Hutson, 2000) and provide a useful analogy. Thus, services (that are normally required by professional merchants, market vendors, and other full or part-time entrepreneurs, to say nothing of those required by the urban inhabitants themselves) might

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have included canoe carriers and overland tumpline porters, warehousing facilities, credit and banking services, protection against marauding bandits and marketplace improprieties, and provisioning residents, merchants and porters with food, rest and entertainment like taverns, and sweat baths (also see Houston et al., 2000: 13), gaming competitions, and brothels (Feldman, 1978).

DISCUSSION
As I mentioned in the opening of this article, this kind of thinking runs against the grain of a good deal of conventional wisdom about Maya economic systems, which sees Maya sites as not having commercial components until the development of secondary states in the Postclassic Period (Kepecs, 2003; Kepecs et al., 1994; McAnany, 1993; Masson, 2002; Wells, 2006). The transition to what is believed to be a much more commercialized society and culture was rst exemplied by the archaeological work on the Postclassic sites on the island of Cozumel (Freidel, 2008; Sabloff, 1990; Sabloff and Rathje, 1975, 1980), which Chunchucmil resembles in many ways. The demise of divine kingship and the cessation after the Classic Period of truly monumental architecture dominating site centers cannot be denied, but the primary evidence for a much reduced redistributive mode in the Postclassic in favor of mercantilism remains documentary and linguistic. Actual artifactual evidence for Postclassic market exchange is far less substantial. Landa, for example, states in his Relacin of ca. 1566 that the occupation to which [the Maya] had the greatest inclination was trade (Tozzer, 1941: 94; also see Oviedo y Valdes, 1851[1535], and Ximnez, 192931), and that they traded in such low-value articles as salt, sh, cloth and clothing (mantas), copal, wax, honey, and int knives, in addition to higher-value goods such as swords and slaves for cacao, stone beads, feathers, bells and other objects of metal. Tozzer also cites Pedro Martyr (1516) that the canoes seen by Columbus held such household items as utensils, pottery, and wooden objects, while other chroniclers spoke of hemp, clay idols, pelts, fruits, and vegetables, and even maize. More than half of these items are highly perishable. Maya vocabulary, moreover, includes the term kiwik (or kiuik), which can be translated as market, fair, where one buys or sells or simply plaza, and ah kiwik yah for those who traded in the marketplace (Barrera Vasquez, 1995: 405; King and Shaw, 2007: 6; Wurtzburg, 1991: 947). In addition to terms for professional, probably elite, merchants, such as pplom for professional merchants, ah polom for merchant who bought and sold, and ah pplom yoc for traveling merchants, the vocabulary includes ah kaay for peddler, ah chokom

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konol for small-time trader mainly in trinkets and little items such as needles and pins, ah lilits konol for a merchant in spicy condiments and vegetables, and ah lotay konol for a bulk merchant or wholesaler (see Roys, 1939: 31; Tozzer, 1941: 94, fn. 415). King and Shaw point out that:
. . . the types of products generally associated with konol phrases suggest that they designated mainly petty merchants and/or shopkeepers, people who catered to local and regional demands and did not travel far. They may not even have been full-time traders, but part-time or occasional merchants. (2007: 6)

The early dictionaries have other trade-related terms, including hel, a form of payment in cacao beans, tem or hotem to refer to a pocket or bag in which those who were trading carried the cacao beans they spent, and kan takin which referred to yellow things and precious stones (King and Shaw, 2007: 67) which were used later to refer to gold and silver. Just how generalizable our ndings at Chunchucmil are to the rest of Classic Maya sites remains to be seen. Chunchucmil may be a rare case of Classic Period market exchange simply because it was a specialized trade center, 600 to 800 years or so before the Postclassic Period; it should also be noted that similar geochemical results have recently been obtained from another specialized trade center, La Trinidad (Moriarty, 2004). But, if Chunchucmil and La Trinidad had vibrant market economies in the Classic Period, then it is worth seriously questioning whether market economies could be found at more orthodox sites. Table 1 is a list of 22 Preclassic, Classic and Postclassic sites at which marketplaces have been hypothesized over the years but never geochemically tested. And, there are, of course, other lines of evidence suggestive of market exchange, such as signs of craft specialization in utilitarian goods and commodities (e.g. the famous studies of Fry, 1980; Rands and Bishop, 1980; Hester and Shafer, 1984; Feter, 1996; also see Brumel, 1980; Costin, 2001), differential consumption of diverse artifacts (e.g. Hirth, 1998) or the juxtaposition of resource specialized communities (see Scarborough et al., 2003), etc. The top-down approach, concentrating as it often does on prestige goods, is simply not a good vantage point to view modes of exchange other than the redistributive mode. The lilliputian analyses of organic and mineral residues in soils have emboldened us to think outside the proverbial box, and it would seem to be an obvious rst step in the investigation of the complexities of ancient Maya economies from a bottom-up perspective. I would suggest that greater use of a bottom-up approach is the only way we will ever know whether Chunchucmil was way ahead of its time or our ndings are more broadly applicable.

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Table 1 Lowland Maya sites where marketplaces have been tentatively identied
Site Period References Geochemical status ? conrmed in process ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? in process ? conrmed ? in process in process in process

El Mirador Chunchucmil Buenavista del Cayo Calakmul Caracol Coba Copan La Milpa Maax Na Palenque Piedras Negras Pueblito Quirigua Sayil Seibal Tikal La Trinidad Yaxha Xunantunich Chichen Itza Mayapan

Dahlin, 1984 Dahlin et al., 2007 Cap, 2007 Carrasco and Colon, 2005; Folan et al., 2001 Chase and Chase, 1994, 2003, 2004 Folan et al., 1983 Becker, 2003 Tourtellot et al., 2003 Shaw et al., 2007 Barnhardt, pers. comm., 2008 Houston et al., 2000 Laporte and Chocn, 2007 Jones et al., 1983 Wurtzburg, 1991 Bair and Terry, 2007; Tourtellot, 1988 Coe, 1967; Jones, 1996 Moriarty, 2004 Jones, 1996 Keller, 2007 Terminal Classic Ruppert, 1952 Postclassic C. Brown and M. Masson, pers. comm., 2008

Late Preclassic Early Classic Late Classic

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BRUCE H. DAHLIN is an environmental archaeologist with a deep commitment to multidisciplinary research. He is currently the director of the Ancient Maya Environmental Studies Center, and co-PI on two currently funded NSF projects: Developing Geochemical Signatures of Ancient Maya Marketplaces, and Speleothem Proxies for Interactions of Climate, Land Use, and Culture in the Ancient Maya Lowlands. He was the head PI on the Pakbeh Regional Economy Program which investigated Chunchucmil from 1993 to 2006. He has also directed the Project to Reconstruct Holocene Environments on a Karstic Plain, Yucatan, Mexico 19861993, and The El Mirador Archaeological Project 19761982. He has taught most recently in the Center for Environmental Studies at Shepherd University and the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Howard University. Address: Center for Environmental Studies, Shepherd University, 443 Turner Road, Shepherdstown, WV 25443, USA. [email: dahlin.bruceh@gmail.com]

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