Everyday Life Matters: Maya Farmers at Chan

Everyday Life Matters: Maya Farmers at Chan

Everyday Life Matters: Maya Farmers at Chan

Everyday Life Matters: Maya Farmers at Chan


"Interesting, strong, and timely. Everyday Life Matters is clearly and sharply written, and by targeting the archaeology of everyday life as an emerging field explicitly, it identifies and fills a real void in the field."--John Robb, author of The Early Mediterranean Village

"An absolute must-read. Robin's thorough understanding of commoners and how they occasionally interacted with elites provides a solid foundation for social reconstruction."--Payson Sheets, coeditor of Surviving Sudden Environmental Change

While the study of ancient civilizations most often focuses on temples and royal tombs, a substantial part of the archaeological record remains hidden in the understudied day-to-day lives of artisans, farmers, hunters, and other ordinary people of the ancient world. Various chores completed during the course of a person's daily life, though at first glance trivial, have a powerful impact on society as a whole. Everyday Life Matters develops general methods and theories for studying the applications of everyday life in archaeology, anthropology, and a wide range of related disciplines.

Examining the two-thousand-year history (800 B.C.-A.D. 1200) of the ancient farming community of Chan in Belize, Cynthia Robin's ground-breaking work explains why the average person should matter to archaeologists studying larger societal patterns. Robin argues that the impact of the mundane can be substantial, so much so that the study of a polity without regard to its citizenry is incomplete. Refocusing attention away from the Maya elite and offering critical analysis of daily life elucidated by anthropological theory, Robin engages us to consider the larger implications of the commonplace and to rethink the constitution of human societies by ordinary people living routine lives.


She woke up on a warm morning in AD 750. The Maya farming community of Chan was thriving, and more and more people were moving into the community. This meant clearing new land for agricultural fields. As her grandparents had taught her, and their grandparents had taught them, she went to help clear the fields nearby her home with some new neighbors after a warm meal of corn gruel prepared from freshly ground corn from her family’s fields. Working with her chert adze, she carefully cleared the understory but was always conscious to leave the productive mature tropical-forest canopy trees—fruit trees, mahogany trees, chico zapote, and many others, standing. Agriculture and the forest could exist together. As she may or may not have been aware, this was one of the reasons why health remained consistent in her community, and why health was declining at this same time for people living in the nearby Maya city of Tikal, where much of the mature tropical forest had been depleted.

I woke up on a cold midwestern morning in AD 2012 with a wind chill factor of 30° below. I went to the kitchen and poured myself a bowl of organic cereal, a product of Canada, for breakfast. Like countless other people from all walks of life and all across the globe, I went outside and got in my car to drive to work. I usually don’t drive to work in the morning, as I live only one mile from Northwestern, but when it is 30° below, I drive that one mile. As an individual act, my getting in my car in the morning and driving to work seems inconsequential. But because this act is repeated by a multitude of others and across time, its consequences are . . .

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