320 pages, 6 x 9
22 b&w illustrations, 14 maps
Release Date:11 Apr 2017
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The Value of Things

Prehistoric to Contemporary Commodities in the Maya Region

The University of Arizona Press

Jade, stone tools, honey and wax, ceramics, rum, land. What gave these commodities value in the Maya world, and how were those values determined? What factors influenced the rise and fall of a commodity’s value? The Value of Things examines the social and ritual value of commodities in Mesoamerica, providing a new and dynamic temporal view of the roles of trade of commodities and elite goods from the prehistoric Maya to the present.

Editors Jennifer P. Mathews and Thomas H. Guderjan begin the volume with a review of the theoretical literature related to the “value of things.” Throughout the volume, well-known scholars offer chapters that examine the value of specific commodities in a broad time frame—from prehistoric, colonial, and historic times to the present. Using cases from the Maya world on both the local level and the macro-regional, contributors look at jade, agricultural products (ancient and contemporary), stone tools, salt, cacao (chocolate), honey and wax, henequen, sugarcane and rum, land, ceramic (ancient and contemporary), and contemporary tourist handicrafts.

Each chapter author looks into what made their specific commodity valuable to ancient, historic, and contemporary peoples in the Maya region. Often a commodity’s worth goes far beyond its financial value; indeed, in some cases, it may not even be viewed as something that can be sold. Other themes include the rise and fall in commodity values based on perceived need, rarity or overproduction, and change in available raw materials; the domestic labor side of commodities, including daily life of the laborers; and relationships between elites and nonelites in production.

Examining, explaining, and theorizing how people ascribe value to what they trade, this scholarly volume provides a rich look at local and regional Maya case studies through centuries of time.


Rani T. Alexander
Dean E. Arnold
Timothy Beach
Briana Bianco
Steven Bozarth
Tiffany C. Cain
Scott L. Fedick
Thomas H. Guderjan
John Gust
Eleanor Harrison-Buck
Brigitte Kovacevich
Samantha Krause
Joshua J. Kwoka
Richard M. Leventhal
Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach
Jennifer P. Mathews
Heather McKillop
Allan D. Meyers
Gary Rayson
Mary Katherine Scott
E. Cory Sills

The chapters in this useful volume are succinct, accessible and provide food for thought about the production, circulation and consumption of certain commodities in Mesoamerica. As such, it should appeal to a broad audience of archaeological anthropologists, geographers, art historians and material culture specialists interested in Native American peoples, things and landscapes.”—Antiquity

“Examines the ‘value of things’ not only from an economic perspective but much more broadly, emphasizing the social, ritual, and ideological components.”—Gabrielle Vail, co-author of The New Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs, Volume 2: The Codical Texts
Jennifer P. Mathews is a professor of anthropology at Trinity University. She is the author of Chicle: The Chewing Gum of the Americas, from the Ancient Maya to William Wrigley. The recipient of numerous teaching awards and service distinctions, she is an expert on commodities and historical archaeology in the Yucatán peninsula.
Thomas H. Guderjan
is an associate professor of anthropology and chair of the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Texas at Tyler. He is the author of The Nature of an Ancient Maya City: Resources, Interaction, and Power at Blue Creek, Belize and Ancient Maya Traders of Ambergris Caye.
Introduction: The Value of Things
Jennifer P. Mathews and Thomas H. Guderjan
1. The Value of Labor: How the Production Process Added Value to Pre-Columbian Maya Jade
Brigitte Kovacevich
2. Production of Ancient Wetland Agricultural Commodities in the Maya Lowlands
Thomas H. Guderjan, Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, Timothy Beach, Steven Bozarth, and Samantha Krause
3. F inding Value in the Mundane: Chert Features and Communities of Practice at San Bartolo, Guatemala
Joshua J. Kwoka
4. The Paynes Creek Salt Works, Belize: A Model for Ancient Maya Salt Production
Heather McKillop and E. Cory Sills
5. Beekeeping Practices in Modern and Ancient Yucatán: Going from the Known to the Unknown
Briana Bianco, Rani T. Alexander, and Gary Rayson
6. The Coin of Her Realm: Cacao as Gendered Goods among the Prehispanic and Colonial Maya
Eleanor Harrison-Buck
7. Prerevolutionary Henequen Landscapes of Northwestern Yucatán
Allan D. Meyers
8. Cosmopolitan Living? Examining the Sugar and Rum Industry of the Costa Escondida, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Jennifer P. Mathews and John Gust
9. Plant-Food Commodities of the Maya Lowlands
Scott L. Fedick
10. Questioning the Status of Land as Commodity in Maya Quintana Roo and Belize
Tiffany C. Cain and Richard M. Leventhal
11. Changes in Ceramics as Commodities in Ticul, Yucatán, Mexico (1965–2008) and What They Tell Us about Ancient Maya Ceramic Production
Dean E. Arnold
12. Meaning in the Making: Locating Value in the Production and Consumption of Maya Tourist Arts
Mary Katherine Scott

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