Cambridge Archaeological Journal, Volume 27 – Issue 1
David A. Freidel, Marilyn A. Masson*, and Michelle Rich


Exploring the long-term use of accounting practices and currencies by literate and numerate authorities contributes new information regarding the complexity of the political economy of ancient Maya society. Two forms of indirect, yet compelling, lines of evidence for accounting practices and currencies are presented in this article. First, we identify potential accounting devices (counting sticks and tokens) found in the tombs of royal scribes and nobles, based on the contextual associations and depicted uses of similar objects in Maya art such as polychrome vases and murals. Second, we argue that the long-term use and significant standardization of specific shell objects suggests their role as all-purpose monies, in addition to their complementary status as counting devices or numerical symbols. This paper addresses the intricate relationships between symbolism, value and multiple modes of exchange that have long been of interest to cross-cultural studies in anthropology.

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* Denotes CSDA Associates, Affiliates, and Staff