Ancient Maya by Sue Bradford Edwards

By Sue Bradford Edwards

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Under the king were members of his family and other high-ranking nobles acting as merchants. They traded jade, obsidian, cacao beans, cloth, salt, and red spiny oyster shells for other goods the city wanted. The king’s farmers owed him a certain number of days of tribute labor each year; the king used these laborers to raise fields in swampy areas. Because fish lived among the water lilies in the canals that bordered these fields, their droppings fertilized the mud. Laborers hauled this mud into the fields, making the soil rich for crops, including cacao and cotton.

Rainwater remains on the surface for only a brief time before it passes through the stone and drips into caves and underground rivers. Local leaders had to make sure water was available in some other way. In the northern regions, there are no rivers, and rainfall is the only source of water. When rain erodes the stone and the ground collapses, sinkholes known as cenotes open up. Inside these massive holes, the Maya built stairs. They climbed up and down to reach a steady supply of water even during the dry season.

Indd 41 10/23/14 10:33 AM Life in the Market Maya art and writing often tell the history of kings or the movements of celestial bodies, but the murals at Calakmul tell about life in the marketplace. 1 These murals depict the bustle of the Maya marketplace. The king lived a life of privilege, but he had many responsibilities organizing the lives of his people. Under the king were members of his family and other high-ranking nobles acting as merchants. They traded jade, obsidian, cacao beans, cloth, salt, and red spiny oyster shells for other goods the city wanted.

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