Interaction among the Complex Societies of Classic-Period Mesoamerica

Sergio Gómez Chávez and Michael W. Spence

in The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780195390933
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Interaction among the Complex Societies of Classic-Period Mesoamerica


This article reviews archaeological evidence of interactions among the complex societies of Mesoamerica in the Classic period. All of the Classic-period (250–900 ad ) societies of Mesoamerica carried on trade and diplomatic exchanges with their neighbors, but some were also involved in direct contacts over much greater distances. Long-distance exchange was structured to a considerable degree by the diversity of natural environments and the variety of ecological niches existing in Mesoamerica, particularly the contrast between highlands and lowlands. Cotton, cacao, rubber, salt, marine shell, and copal sap were desirable lowland and coastal products, while obsidian, nopal and maguey products, basalt, jadeite, and various semiprecious stones were primarily highland items. Other goods (e.g., decorated ceramics) acquired their value from the input of highly skilled labor. In many cases the goods and routes of these exchange systems had developed much earlier, for example, the movement of highland Guatemalan obsidian throughout the Maya region. In the Early Classic era they expanded and intensified, reflecting the growing formal relationships among the rulers and nobles of the various states—alliances sustained by intermarriage, reciprocal visits, frequent gift exchanges, and perhaps tribute.

Keywords: complex society; interaction; Classic period; Maya lowlands; Teotihuacan; trade; diplomatic exchange

Article.  6858 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology ; Archaeology by Region

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