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Journal Article

Understanding and calculating household size, wealth, and inequality in the Maya Lowlands


Walden,  John P.       
Department of Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Chase, A. S., Thompson, A. E., Walden, J. P., & Feinman, G. M. (2023). Understanding and calculating household size, wealth, and inequality in the Maya Lowlands. Ancient Mesoamerica, 34(3): e1. doi:10.1017/S095653612300024X.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000F-25CA-4
Inequality is present in all human societies, but building a robust understanding of how that inequality developed and persisted for centuries requires historical and archaeological data. Identifying the degree of inequality (or disparity) in ancient communities can be addressed through a variety of methods. One method becoming standard practice in archaeology evaluates inequality through quantitative analysis of robust settlement data. In this Compact Special Section, we assess household size as a potential reflection of wealth inequality among Classic period (a.d. 250–900) Maya settlements. First, we generate house-size data from both pedestrian and remotely sensed LiDAR surveys. Then we use those data to calculate Gini coefficients and Lorenz curves, which provide measures of variation. Gini coefficients range from 0 to 1, where 0 reflects perfect equality and 1 indicates perfect inequality, regardless of the actual values in the distribution. Both area (m2) and volume (m3) provide different, complementary metrics to investigate residential size as a metric for wealth inequality among Classic Maya Lowland settlements. Proposed mechanisms that generate inequality include the intergenerational transmission of wealth and differential access to resources; however, addressing these and other pathways for how inequality develops and persists, and how it was maintained in the past provides insight into similar processes of systemic inequality worldwide.