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Merchants, Markets, and Exchange in the Pre-Columbian World

Merchants, Markets, and Exchange in the Pre-Columbian World

Edited by Kenneth G. Hirth and Joanne Pillsbury

ISBN 9780884023869

Publication date: 05/27/2013

Merchants, Markets, and Exchange in the Pre-Columbian World examines the structure, scale, and complexity of economic systems in the pre-Hispanic Americas, with a focus on the central highlands of Mexico, the Maya Lowlands, and the central Andes. Civilization in each region was characterized by complex political and religious institutions, highly skilled craft production, and the long-distance movement of finished goods. Scholars have long focused on the differences in economic organization between these civilizations. Societies in the Mexican highlands are recognized as having a highly commercial economy centered around one of the world’s most complex market systems; those of the Maya region are characterized as having reciprocal exchange networks and periodic marketplaces that supplemented the dominant role of the palace; and those of the central Andes are recognized as having multiple forms of resource distribution, including household-to-household reciprocity, barter, environmental complementarity, and limited market exchange. Essays in this volume examine various dimensions of these ancient economies, including the presence of marketplaces, the operation of merchants (and other individuals) who exchanged and moved goods across space, the role of artisans who produced goods as part of their livelihood, and the trade and distribution networks through which goods were bought, sold, and exchanged.


  • Conventional thinking by archaeologists about the role and nature of markets in the pre-Columbian Americas has been subject to revision in recent times. This new collection from a 2010 Dumbarton Oaks symposium features five studies about highland Mexico, four on Mayan areas, and seven about Central Andean cultures, constituting the most comprehensive comparative work to date. The papers all present more complexity in the nature of goods production and distribution in these regions than can be adequately explained or accommodated by earlier models of their exchange systems (e.g., the Aztec merchant economy, Mayan palace economy, and Andean vertical archipelago). This change has occurred over recent decades, but the emphasis and scope of the current volume is unique.

    —K. Cleland-Sipfle, Choice


  • Kenneth G. Hirth is Professor of Anthropology at Penn State University.
  • Joanne Pillsbury is Andrall E. Pearson Curator in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Book Details

  • 480 pages
  • 8-1/2 x 11 inches
  • Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection