SCRAP Reading Group Week 17: Markets & Distributional Approach

This week we had our first meet-up of the new year for the SCRAP Reading Group. A special thank you to Dr. Bernadette Cap who joined us to discuss a series of articles on economies, marketplaces, and the distributional approach in Maya studies. Summaries and discussion questions are below.

Eppich, Keith (2020). Commerce, Redistribution, Autarky, and Barter: The Multitiered Urban Economy of El Perú-Waká, Guatemala. In The Real Business of Ancient Maya Economies: From Farmers’ Fields to Rulers’ Realms, edited by Marilyn A. Masson, David A. Freidel, and Arthur A. Demarest, pp. 149-171. University of Florida Press, Tallahassee.

Eppich uses the concept of the ceramic microtradition (Deal 1998) and defines it as “the unique stylistic attributes belonging to specific pottery workshops and, in some cases, individual potters” (153). He applies the Distributional Approach to ceramic types and concludes that market exchange existed at El Perú-Waká because all households, regardless of rank, had Tinaja Rojo, Infierno Negro, Maquina Café. The distribution of polychromes supports a redistributive economy in the Late Classic (they occur at all households but in much higher frequencies in elite residences) and through commerce in the Terminal Classic.

Cap, Bernadette (2020). The Difference a Marketplace Makes: A View of Maya Market Exchange from the Late Classic Buenavista del Cayo Marketplace. In The Real Business of Ancient Maya Economies: From Farmers’ Fields to Rulers’ Realms, edited by Marilyn A. Masson, David A. Freidel, and Arthur A. Demarest, pp. 387-402. University of Florida Press, Tallahassee.
Cap provides empirical evidence for the presence of a marketplace at Buena Vista del Cayo in the Belize River Valley. She includes a list of marketplace activities (exchange of goods, craft production, storage, food preparation, maintenance, administration) and the archaeological expectations for each so that researchers can identify markets at other sites. Cap concludes that limestone bifaces, obsidian blades, organics, and possibly ceramics were exchanged at the Buena Vista market.

Discussion Questions

Applying the Distributional Approach in the Maya Region
Hirth (2009: 459) specifically selected non-local pottery to evaluate market exchange at Xochicalco because (1) “their foreign origin meant that all of the variation in domestic assemblages would be a function of the distribution system through which they moved” and (2) their relative scarcity and high transportation costs made them prestige goods that could have been moved outside of market exchange.

  1. If the conditions of the Distributional Approach are not met in the study (i.e. at least identifying local vs. non-local pottery), should we be applying it? What does it tell us?
  2. Local goods can certainly be exchanged via market exchange. Does this mean that a Distributional Approach, without knowledge of provenance, suggests the presence of localized market exchange?”
  3. Deal (1998) discusses microtraditions as a combination of technological, formal, and stylistic attributes. Eppich does not include technological attributes which are arguably the most useful for determining where/from whom a potter learned to produce pottery. Are ceramic types the same as microtraditions? Is this a case of type-variety being over extended?
  4. Can this extend back in time? If all Preclassic households have red slipped pottery does that mean there was market exchange?

Scale of Market Exchange”
Bernadette’s work has demonstrated the presence of markets at Buena Vista in the Belize Valley. What are the next steps for archaeologists in regions were markets have been identified?

  1. Identify markets at other sites using Cap’s criteria and document variation?
  2. Attempt to understand the scale of market exchange? I (and Sunahara 2003) think there was regional market exchange for pottery in the Late Classic in the Belize Valley.
  3. Should we be thinking regionally in places like the Belize Valley where people surely interacted regularly across the region? It seems to me there have been enough projects (artifact collections) to achieve this.

Some Alabama specific Data/Questions

Surface collection (house mounds) data:

• 39.2 % non-local pottery (southern Belize, northern Belize, Belize Valley, Maya Mountains, unknown limestone bearing regions)

• 27.5 % local to Alabama

• 33.3% mix of local and non-local (mostly areas associated with the Maya Mountains)

  1. Our compositional analysis indicates the pottery is coming from all over the place. Does that mean that Alabama had access to, or hosted, a large market with goods from all over?
  2. Is there another explanation? Perhaps variability is related to easy access to the coast? Location in a frontier zone? Some combination of markets, maritime trade, and frontier zone location?
  3. Where should we look for comparative data to understand the consumption patterns at Alabama? Is the Alabama data anomalous? Or is there just a lack of provenance/production studies?”