While there are extensively written records of political organization in the Maya Post-Classical Period, between 1200-1524 AD, little is known about how the societal elites wielded economic power. Researchers investigated the production and diffusion of obsidian artifacts to fill this gap in knowledge. The experimenters found that around 500 years ago, the Maya people in the Guatemalan Highlands bought and sold goods with very little oversight from the ruling K’iche elite. The hands-off approach led to the emergence of independent and various investment networks. Over time, the prepared availability of obsidian and artisans resulted in a system that was in many ways similar to modern market-based economies.
Lead author of the study, Rachel Horowitz says, “Scholars have generally assumed that the obsidian trade was managed by Maya rulers, but our research shows that this wasn’t the case at least in this area. People seem to have had a good deal of economic freedom including being able to go to places similar to the supermarkets we have today to buy and sell goods from craftsmen.”
However, outside the core region, in areas conquered by the K’iche’, there was less similarity in the obsidian financial networks. The lot of the more helpful form of obsidian, the nonvocal Pachuca obsidian in the main sites, indicates that the ruling elite controlled the trade of the more practical form of obsidian only. The analysis shows that in the non-central regions, specialized places emerged where people could procure blades and other tools bade by experts.
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