7 Distributional Heuristics in Unlikely Places: Incipient Markets and Hidden Commerce

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New World households engaged in multiple forms of exchange: markets, redistribution, gifting, debt, reciprocity, and more. Determining the degree of prominence of each of these forms in ancient economies gives clues to the economic basis of leadership and the daily lives of households. A major method for inferring forms of exchange from household assemblages is Hirth's distributional approach. This paper applies the distributional approach to domestic inventories in two places where markets are unlikely: the Preclassic Maya in and around Ucí, Yucatan, Mexico; and Inka-period settlements in the Upper Mantaro Valley, Peru. The data presented in this paper show an equitable distribution of fancy pottery among households of both high and low socio-economic status in both areas. These somewhat unanticipated results could provoke several interpretations. At one extreme we could posit an important role for market exchange. At the other extreme, we could reject the logic of the distributional approach. This paper argues for a more circumspect track that uses additional lines of evidence to make inferences about incipient market exchange coincident with the rise of centralized leadership in the Maya area and poorly documented, possibly concealed market exchange nestled within Inka command economies. [Preclassic Maya, Inka economies, market exchange, households].

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-108
Number of pages14
JournalArcheological Papers of the American Anthropological Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

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© 2021 by the American Anthropological Association

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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