Philosophy

A CLASSIC MAYA MARKETPLACE AT XUNANTUNICH, BELIZE

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The growing body of empirical evidence for Classic Maya marketplace exchange has caused a paradigm shift in our understanding of economic networks and their effects on social and political organization. The identification of marketplace facilities
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   Research Reports in Belizean Archaeology , Vol. 16, 2019, pp. 111-122. Copyright © 2019 by the Institute of Archaeology, NICH, Belize.    9 A CLASSIC MAYA MARKETPLACE AT XUNANTUNICH, BELIZE  Bernadette Cap The growing body of empirical evidence for Classic Maya marketplace exchange has caused a paradigm shift in our understanding of economic networks and their effects on social and political organization. The identification of marketplace  facilities across the Maya lowlands has been rare, however. Each identified marketplace therefore provides valuable information that allows for discussion of the diversity and significance of marketplaces. Presented here is an overview of the  Xunantunich marketplace that was in operation in the Mopan River valley, Belize from the Late to Terminal Classic periods (AD 600-890). The Xunantunich Archaeology Project team conducted initial testing at Xunantunich in the 1990s and suggested the site’s Lost Plaza as a possible marketplace facility. I reopened excavations of this plaza in 2016 using a robust research strategy that resulted in the recovery of multiple lines of evidence that meet expectations of a marketplace. The Xunantunich marketplace was one where goods used in domestic life were available for trade indicating that it was focused on meeting householder’s needs. The establishment and decline of the marketplace are chronologically linked to the political dynamics of the site and could have been a source for ruling elites to extract wealth and manipulate their power. Introduction Recent empirical research on Classic Maya marketplace exchange primarily has included examination of household consumer and production practices for evidence of shared exchange networks (e.g., Chase and Chase 2014; Halperin et al. 2009; Hutson 2017; Masson and Freidel 2012; Sheets 2000) and more rarely, the identification of marketplace facilities within site centers. To date, there are less than 15 Maya Lowland sites where a confirmed or posited marketplace has been examined through testing and excavation (Bair 2010; Cap 2015a; Chase et al. 2015; Dahlin et al. 2010; Jones 1996, 2015; Keller 2006; Roche Recinos and Matsumoto 2016; Shaw and King 2015; Wurtzburg 1991). The marketplace facility is important, however because it is the nexus point at which the multiple nodes of the marketplace exchange network meet. Each new marketplace identification consequently is valuable for expanding our understanding of how marketplace exchange was organized, the diversity of marketplaces, the potential impacts of marketplaces on household economics, and the archaeological methods most useful for their identification. Scholars working in Belize have been at the forefront of empirical marketplace identifications, with published studies at the sites of Caracol (Chase et al. 2015), Buenavista del Cayo (Cap 2015a), Ma’ax Na (Shaw and King 2015), and Xunantunich (Keller 2006). Other sites have been suggested to be possible marketplace locations based on broad patterns or factors that indirectly suggest marketplace exchange (e.g., large open plazas, multiple low linear platforms in plazas, high settlement densities, limited natural resources, household exchange and production practices). I expect that additional investigations of marketplace facilities are likely to come in the near future, but there are many reasons for the historically slow investigation of the physical marketplace (Hutson and Dahlin 2017; King and Shaw 2015; Shaw 2012). Significant among them is the Maya preference for open-air marketplaces which may leave few or trace material signatures that present challenges in their collection and interpretation (i.e., issues of equifinality). Consequently, the plazas in which such marketplaces may have been held appear at the modern surface to be devoid of architecture and artifacts, which gives little incentive for archaeologists to study them. In part, a result of this was that early studies of posited marketplaces tended to rely on limited testing and materials collection. New developments in research strategies used to gather data in plazas (e.g., extensive horizontal excavation and the inclusion of soil chemistry studies and microartifact analysis) along with refinement of expectations as to how marketplaces are likely to be preserved in the archaeological record are turning this situation around (Cap 2015a, 2015b; Dahlin et al 2010; King 2015). I present an overview of recent research at the site of Xunantunich, Belize to add and expand on understandings of Classic Maya marketplaces. Located in the Mopan River   A Classic Maya Marketplace at Xunantunich 112 valley, Xunantunich was first suggested to have a Classic period marketplace by the Xunantunich Archaeology Project (XAP), directed by Richard Leventhal and Wendy Ashmore, based on ground survey and limited testing of a plaza located in the site center (Jamison 1996; Keller 1997, 2006). I expanded on their research with more extensive excavation and collection of additional lines of evidence to build a more robust case for the kinds of features built and activities conducted in the plaza. Multiple lines of evidence from this study meet current archaeological expectations of a marketplace, thus, confirming earlier interpretations. This study provides new and more detailed information about the Xunantunich marketplace that enhance broader understandings of Classic Maya marketplaces. Xunantunich Xunantunich was a major center in the Mopan River valley during the Preclassic (Brown et al. 2011) and again in the Late to Terminal Classic periods (AD 600-850) (LeCount et al. 2002; LeCount and Yaeger 2010; Helmke et al. 2010). The focus here is on the latter periods during which time the architectural center was constructed atop a steep, modified hill. Occupation in the site’s hinterland also boomed at this time (Ehret 1995; Yaeger 2010). This initial quick coalescence of power at the site may be linked to connections with the larger polity of Naranjo located 14 km to the west (Ashmore 2010; Helmke and Awe 2016, 2017; LeCount and Yaeger 2010). Xunantunich was just one of several capitals situated along the Mopan River between which political power shifted over time (Figure 1). The primary rival polity to Xunantunich during the Late Classic period was Buenavista del Cayo located 5.5 km to the north, which initially rose to power in the Early Classic (Ball and Taschek 2004; Peuramaki-Brown 2012; Yaeger et al. 2015). By the mid-700s AD Buenavista del Cayo was in a state of decline and Xunantunich became the major political capital in the area (Ball and Taschek 2018; Peuramaki-Brown 2012; LeCount et al. 2002; LeCount and Yaeger 2010). This reign was short lived because by the end of the Late Classic period construction in the Xunantunich Figure 1 . Location of Xunantunich in the Upper Belize River valley, Belize. site center was minimal and included the restriction of space with the use of walls that blocked accessways (LeCount and Yaeger 2010). The majority of the site’s carved stela date to the Terminal Classic, however, which Helmke et al. (2010) suggested may represent attempts by local leaders to assert independent political power. Even so, their success was limited because the site and its hinterlands were in the process of being abandoned by the mid-800s AD (Ashmore et al. 2004; Ehret 1995; LeCount et al. 2010; Yaeger 2010). The Classic Xunantunich center (Figure 2) is comprised of four architectural groups (Groups A through D), of which Group A has the largest footprint in area and architectural volume. Structures are arranged around four plazas and of these Plazas A-I, A-II, and the Lost Plaza have open entryways that suggest they were venues for public activities. Plazas A-I and A-II have the greatest areal coverage and were srcinally a single plaza that was divided  Cap 113 Figure 2 . Map of the Classic period Xunantunich center. by construction of Str. A-1 sometime in the late Late Classic period (AD 670-780) (LeCount and Yaeger 2010). They are flanked by the major ritual structures of the site center, including a 38 m tall ritual complex referred to as El Castillo. Plaza A-I is accessed by the Northwest Causeway, a sacbe that extends east towards the hinterlands. The Lost Plaza is the posited marketplace location and is accessed via Sacbe II which extends west from Plaza A-I. A short stairway built between the Lost Plaza and sacbe would have allowed seamless movement between the two spaces (Keller 2006:Figure 5.33). The Lost Plaza covers an area of approximately 3,100 m 2  and, unlike Plazas A-I and A-II which are flat, has a 3 m north/south elevation difference that physically creates two distinct zones. Along the eastern edge, the plaza is delimited by a ballcourt (Ballcourt I – Strs. A-18 and A-19), which would have drawn the public to this area to view ballgame events. Along the northern edge, the east half is marked by a stone wall that rises only slightly above the last plaza surface. A series of low platforms (<2 m high) were constructed along the western part of the north edge and turn south to make up part of the plaza’s western edge. Beyond both the north and west edges are abrupt changes in elevation indicating the plaza limits followed natural changes in the limestone bedrock that is unmodified and shallow in most areas. Bedrock is exposed west of the linear platforms and was formally quarried in an area that marks that southwest corner of the plaza. The Lost Plaza Discovery Although research and mapping has been conducted at Xunantunich since the early 1900s, the Lost Plaza was not recognized as a formally built activity space until the late 1990s when XAP team member Angela Keller (1997, 2006) targeted investigation of public spaces in the site center. Previously, J. Eric S. Thompson (1940:Plate 4f) mapped and photographed a pair of granite spheroids located in a “leveled area” between Group B and Group A. XAP mapped the long, linear structures along the plaza’s west edge in 1993 which were investigated by team members Tom Jamison (1996:67) and Jason Yaeger (Keller 2006:389, 507-508). Both noted a high density of chert debitage near the linear platforms, but it was unclear at the time if this was due to in situ production or redeposition of refuse. Keller (1997, 2006) conducted a full coverage systematic posthole survey across the Lost Plaza to understand its use as an activity space and its physical characteristics. The survey findings led her to excavate several small test units in two on-plaza areas that collectively exposed an area of 8 m 2  (Figure 3). Her research led to the discovery of built features along the north and south edges which now define the spatial limits of the plaza (see above). Ceramic finds indicated the formal plaza space was first established in the late Late Classic period (AD 680-790). With few Terminal Classic ceramics recovered, Keller (2006:390) suggested the plaza had a short use life restricted to this period. Within the plaza, Keller found several concentrations of macroartifacts (those > ¼” in diameter), each of which seemed to be dominated by a single raw material type. One of these was the chert-rich zone in the northwest corner of the plaza previously noted by Jamison and Yaeger. Keller did not examine this area further, but she did test a different area with high densities of chert located in the plaza’s southeast quadrant and designated as Lithic Production Locus 1 (LPL1). Her 4 m 2  test area revealed a   A Classic Maya Marketplace at Xunantunich 114 Figure 3 . Xunantunich Archaeology Project investigations of the Lost Plaza (after Keller 2006:Figure 5.1; Jamison 1996:Figure 8). density of 1,042 chert debitage/m 3  of soil which was dominated by small (<1.5 cm in length) biface thinning flakes (Keller 2006:510-511). Keller (2006:522-528) interpreted this assemblage to be produced from small-scale knapping of chert bifaces brought to the area in a preformed state. Keller also tested a chert and ceramic-rich zone in the plaza’s northeast quadrant with test excavations that covered a 4 m 2  area. Obsidian debitage, however, was the predominant material recovered and subsequently designated as Lithic Production Locus 2 (LPL2). The assemblage was made up of small fragments (<2.5 cm in length), some of which were clearly core reduction and rejuvenation debris, at a density of 144 fragments/m 3  of soil (Keller 2006:530-543). These attributes were suggestive of blade production from cores that were preformed prior to entry in the plaza (Keller 2006:543). A unique find to the plaza were four spindle whorls from the LPL2 excavations. Spindle whorls are typically rare finds and not at  Cap 115 all common to plaza contexts. The spatial association of the whorls and obsidian may have been due to crafters working in close proximity (Keller 2006:566). A marketplace was held in the Lost Plaza it would have been open-air with temporary or semi-permanent constructions to accommodate vendors. Empirical archaeological indicators of this kind of marketplace includes a combination of such things as currency; weights; clustered artifacts by raw material type or clustered soil chemical signatures that could represent vendor locations and wares; architectural features to support or divide vendor stalls that may have a linear arrangement (e.g., low platforms with or without superstructures); and debris from production of lightweight portable objects (Cap 2015a, 2015b; Dahlin et al. 2010; Keller 2006; King 2015; Shaw 2012). Many different kinds of goods can be exchanged in a marketplace, but the majority of goods are those used in domestic life. Non-utilitarian goods may be present, however. A public marketplace facility is expected to be in an accessible location and may be associated with features that increase efficiency or facilitate participant needs (e.g., roads to accommodate transport, water features). Based on these expectations, the XAP Lost Plaza investigations provided tantalizing hints of a marketplace at Xunantunich. This was an important initial step, but the limited extent of Keller’s horizontal excavations prevented her from eliminating the possibility that non-marketplace activities caused the patterns observed (Keller 2006:396). While empirical marketplace studies had been conducted at sites such as Chunchucmil (Dahlin 2003; Dahlin et al. 2010) and Sayil (Wurtzburg 1991) by the time of the XAP study, the lines of evidence recovered differed between sites and from those found in the Lost Plaza. Because of the wide variation of marketplaces (e.g., timing, types of stalls, goods exchanged within them) we should not expect all Classic Maya marketplaces to look exactly alike archaeologically. At the same time, though, there was still active debate as to whether the Classic Maya engaged in marketplace exchange. The lack of congruency in these early marketplace studies left questions open. To settle this debate would require more robust sets of data than previously collected and general agreement on a refined, broad set of material expectations for marketplace identifications. This has only occurred more recently. In-Depth Lost Plaza Investigations I reopened the Lost Plaza investigations in 2016 under the umbrella of the Mopan Valley Preclassic Project (MVPP), directed by M. Kathryn Brown, to gain more information about how the plaza was used and asses the strength of a marketplace interpretation. The research strategy I applied was extensive and began with a systematic shovel test survey that extended across the plaza and into off-plaza space, some of which was not tested by XAP (Figure 4). I established a grid that was offset from Keller’s (2006) so as not to come across previously disturbed areas. The larger dimensions of the shovel tests compared to postholes offered the potential to collect a larger artifact assemblage and gave a wider view of the plaza stratigraphy. The second phase of fieldwork was broad horizontal excavation in each of the plaza’s four quadrants that in total exposed an area of 250 m 2  (Figure 4). In addition to macroartifacts, I also collected samples for microartifact analysis. Microartifacts (those <1/4” in diameter) become embedded into a surface and remain in place over time, which allows for study of primary deposition areas and informs on the division of space (e.g., Gifford-Gonzalez et al. 1985). They provide a contrast to macroartifacts which may have been displaced through ancient Maya cleaning practices, thus obscuring evidence for activities and features. I also collected samples of soil for chemical analysis to gain information on the presence of organics that may have been part of plaza activities and for identifying broad divisions of space. Soil chemical analysis was conducted using a weak acid-extraction method (Middleton and Price 1996) and tested using inductively coupled optical emission spectrometry at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Results for a suite of nine elements were collected, but only the findings of phosphates (P) are highlighted here. Enriched soil P is due to the addition of organic materials (Holliday and Gartner 2007) and are used here
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