Ancient Maya Commoners

Ancient Maya Commoners

Ancient Maya Commoners

Ancient Maya Commoners

Synopsis

Much of what we currently know about the ancient Maya concerns the activities of the elites who ruled the societies and left records of their deeds carved on the monumental buildings and sculptures that remain as silent testimony to their power and status. But what do we know of the common folk who labored to build the temple complexes and palaces and grew the food that fed all of Maya society?This pathfinding book marshals a wide array of archaeological, ethnohistorical, and ethnographic evidence to offer the fullest understanding to date of the lifeways of ancient Maya commoners. Senior and emerging scholars contribute case studies that examine such aspects of commoner life as settlement patterns, household organization, and subsistence practices. Their reports cover most of the Maya area and the entire time span from Preclassic to Postclassic. This broad range of data helps resolve Maya commoners from a faceless mass into individual actors who successfully adapted to their social environment and who also held primary responsibility for producing the food and many other goods on which the whole Maya society depended.

Excerpt

Studies of ancient complex societies are often charged with answering basic questions such as how such civilizations came about, how they adapted specialized strategies allowing them to contend with widely diverse environments, and why they ceased to exist. Archaeologists necessarily rely on theoretical models, sometimes using ethnographically or ethnohistorically based bridging arguments to provide humanistic explanations for these complex and dynamic processes. These accounts determine to a very large degree how social scientists and, ultimately, the general public come to understand ancient societies and the roles different people played in them.

An array of frameworks, approaches, and perspectives have been employed through the years to address questions such as these, particularly in the case of the prehistoric Maya of Central America, though the majority of these frameworks have tended to focus on the behavior of only a small segment of society. Highlighted individuals, many of whom are known to us by name thanks to advances in epigraphy, were community and polity leaders whose actions are perceived as influencing the course of culture history. Most people today are, quite understandably, comfortable with this picture; it accords well with the model of our own society. However, while the point that such individuals long ago played central roles seems beyond question, we suggest that much Maya scholarship traditionally has failed to account for the vast majority of historic and prehistoric populations.

It is our immediate goal to bring attention to the rich diversity that characterized social non-elites in Maya society. Looking into the future, we hope to encourage a thoughtful reconsideration of both the overt theoretical perspectives and implicit assumptions applied to the study of pre-

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