Subsistence

 

The basic residential unit in Mayalandia was a house (sometimes house compound with more than one dwelling) and surrounding garden. This pattern of households dispersed across the landscape between the residential clusters around civic-ceremonial precincts makes it difficult for archaeologists to delineate communities. Residents participated in market-based exchange, however, trading for household goods they didn’t generate at their own compounds.

We also find it difficult to identify market locations. We know goods from far away arrived at Maya communities (e.g., obsidian from highland quarries) and analogies with later Mesoamerican societies suggest that control of markets were an importance source of power for Maya elites.

We are still learning about Maya subsistence technologies. Certainly, many Maya had milpa, the traditional Mesoamerican gardens with maize, beans, and squash. They grew cotton, which was spun into thread and woven, and harvested useful items from forested areas. The Maya would have left a few economically important trees growing in the milpas for tasty fruits like sapodilla, avocado, and ramon. They also might have grown cacao. The Maya maintained their productivity by intercropping, and individual households would have traded what they did produce for what they didn’t.

In forests, they used snares and blowguns to hunt arboreal creatures. Communities close to water harvested fish and shellfish, and probably migrating waterfowl. Accelerated clearing of the forested landscape throughout the Classic seems to have increased sedimentation, however, and shellfish consumption declined concomitantly. Various forest creatures were probably kept as pets, then later eaten, including coati mundi, monkeys, birds, and even deer.