Uncovering ancient Maya exchange networks: using the distributional approach to interpret obsidian exchange at Actuncan, Belize

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This study seeks to understand the type of exchange at work at Actuncan, a mid-sized Maya site located in the upper Belize River valley, by examining the distribution of obsidian across households of differing rank. Hirth's "distributional approach" is applied at Actuncan and later critiqued as an inappropriate model for identifying marketplace exchange at eastern lowland Maya sites. Comparative distributional analyses were conducted on six elite households and six non-elite plazuela groups. In addition, the obsidian was evaluated for type and efficiency of production, color, and geological source. The color and source were analyzed in order to better understand whether different types or colors of obsidian were exchanged differently by the ancient Maya of Actuncan. The evidence provided by this research led to a better understanding of the obsidian sources accessed at Actuncan which include the central Mexican source, Pachuca, and Guatemalan sources: El Chayal, Ixtepeque, and San Martin Jilopeteque. In addition, it became clear that households of all ranks had access to obsidian, but the amount of access varied over time and across space. The data was inconclusive as to the type of exchange occurring at Actuncan, since differing forms of standardization provided inconsistent results. When the results of this study are examined in the light of other investigations at Actuncan, it seems unlikely that marketplace exchange ever emerged at this site, however more research is required before any well supported arguments can be made for or against a marketplace at Actuncan

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