Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Anthropology

Content Description

1 online resource (xvi, 178 pages) : illustrations (some color), maps (some color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Marilyn A Masson

Committee Members

Robert M Rosenswig, Timothy S Hare


Agrarian, Mesoamerica, Political Economy, Postclassic Maya, Subsistence, Sustainability, Excavations (Archaeology), Mayas

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


Agrarian states are often viewed as premodern manifestations of complex urbanism, with environmental constraints limiting growth and their sustainability. Pre-Columbian states in the Northern Maya Lowlands were one context where these conditions were thought to apply. However, despite environmental constraints such as a scrub forest, periodic droughts and hurricanes, and an uneven distribution of resources, civilization flourished. Critical to the success of these states were social and economic institutions that supported highly effective landscape management strategies. The impact of these systems is still apparent today.Multiscalar approaches are critical to understanding the complex structures of subsistence economies in premodern urban places. Sustainability is a concept that qualifies the relative durability of these systems. In Maya states, subsistence economies were largely circumscribed by environmental limitations; most food production occurred within a city’s immediate environs, at least ideally. These states were able to mitigate challenges and increase their overall resiliency through both top-down and bottom-up social and economic strategies. Most food production in Mesoamerican states occurred at a household scale. Recent scholarship has underlined the importance of smallholders, or intensive cultivation by urban residents, to the resiliency of premodern states. In this dissertation, I use a political economy approach to investigate cultivation strategies of rural farmers. I argue that the dependency that Maya states had on the production of rural farmers should not be overlooked. Farmers were as vital to sustaining cities as their urban counterparts. Evidence at Mayapán, a Postclassic Maya center (A.D. 1150-1450 ), reveals that households in the rural periphery were as integrated into the site’s exchange economy as commoner households in the urban center. Market exchange was at the center of the household economy at Mayapán. Evidence presented in the following chapters supports my argument that farmers at Mayapán likely exchanged foodstuffs in the marketplace. Diversifying household economic strategies permitted households to sustain and maintain their dependency on markets and alleviated the burdens of daily life in household provisioning. Networks of exchange made possible by household surplus production, particularly of food, increased the resiliency of the city of Mayapán and its subject towns in a region vulnerable to climatic impacts on agriculture. Surplus production and market exchange were thus the foundation upon which Mayapán’s subsistence economy was sustained.