The Value of Things
Prehistoric to Contemporary Commodities in the Maya Region
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
Tiffany C. Cain
Scott L. Fedick
Thomas H. Guderjan
Joshua J. Kwoka
Richard M. Leventhal
Jennifer P. Mathews
Allan D. Meyers
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