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8 Addressing Some Large and Small Issues When I introduce my students to Maya archaeology, I like to frame my course around the“BIG issues.”What are our debates within the field and how can we design research to address these issues? The model that I have developed for understanding the Maya of Blue Creek is based upon the paradigms or principles that I believe must have operated in the past. So, if my interpretations and understandings of Blue Creek are accurate,there are implications for our understanding of the Maya on a larger scale. In this final chapter, I discuss some of those implications. Additionally, I examine some of the important questions that we still face at Blue Creek as a step toward building the research designs of the future. Addressing Some Big Questions “Blue Creek was a wealthy city whose wealth was based upon agriculture and trade.”Such a simple statement carries huge connotations. If it is true, then the economic interaction among Classic Maya polities was far more robust than is often credited. For Blue Creek to have been an exporter of commodities with any regularity , there must have been well-developed trade routes, markets, and ready “buyers .” In short, there was an institutionalized framework for trade. Only a few Mayanists would argue that significant commodities export ever occurred. However, I cannot see how Blue Creek could have acquired so much highly valued exotic material without having something to reciprocate with. Further, when I look at the larger cities of the north, I see large populations with limited agricultural resources and highly variable weather patterns and growing conditions.The idea that they did not import food is improbable. This may or may not have been a consistent practice . However, a well-developed structure for trade could have been in place so that food could be transported in years when large-scale crop failures occurred. Such crop failures have been caused by tropical storms, hurricanes, and drought several times in the past 15 years. In each case, however, only a part of the Maya lowlands 130 Chapter 8 was affected. During the Classic period, these problems could be resolved by using trade as a risk-management mechanism. Even more compelling than the implications of the Blue Creek data are the data from Ambergris Caye and elsewhere that indicate that the well-documented traders of the Postclassic grew out of a well-developed, preexisting trade system that existed in the Classic period. Data from Cerros indicate that these activities were already under way in the Late Preclassic period. It only makes sense that trade, the process of acquisition of exotic goods, became institutionalized with the beginning of great kingdoms. The rulers required exotic goods to symbolically and tangibly reinforce their authority. Viewed through world systems theory,rulers of polities could establish alliances that would be marked by the exchange of elite status-reinforcing objects. These alliances could then be operationalized to build trade partnerships. Wealth, power, and authority were created and maintained by control over resources . In this case, the resources were agricultural. However, other resources were important in other places. Mayanists have debated whether individual communities and polities provided the essentials for their own lives and whether individual polities ever organized single-industry production. Certainly Colha, for example, produced many more stone tools than they used and people who lived at considerable distances from Colha used their products.The question is whether this production was incidental or focal in the life of the community. We can actually evaluate this question at Blue Creek, at least to a degree. It appears that Blue Creek’s relatively low population was organized around agricultural productivity far in excess of their needs. So, the Blue Creek example shows us that at least some Maya cities were focally organized around the export of their resources. Blue Creek also offers an unusually clear view of how Maya cities were organized . Pragmatic issues elsewhere have hampered our ability to understand this at other sites. Sites covered with forest present huge complications to adequate survey work. The sites that have been well surveyed, such as Tikal, demonstrate such complexity and high population density that it is difficult to distinguish the boundaries of corporate groups’ residences. However, at Blue Creek, residential components are clearly bounded, with large tracts of unoccupied agricultural lands separating them. This, combined with the high visibility of the site, allows us to distinguish components and compare and contrast their attributes. As...


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