Classic Maya Diet and Gender Relationships

  • John P. Gerry
  • Meredith S. Chesson
Part of the Studies in Gender and Material Culture book series (SGMC)


In 1967, William Haviland published a paper in which he examined the skeletal stature of a population of individuals excavated from the Classic period Maya site of Tikal. Most of those that he measured were men, and based on the calculated height differences between the low- and high-status burials he argued that the rulers of the site had been nutritionally privileged. His comments regarding the stature of Tikal’s women were brief, and they focused on the marked degree of sexual dimorphism in the population (1967, p. 323). He allowed for genetic factors to explain the differences, but he also implied that dietary patterns and relative status were significant: women were quite a bit shorter than men, presumably because they did not eat as well, in turn reflecting their lower social standing within the society.


Dietary Behaviour Classic Period Carbon Isotope Ratio Site Inhabitant American Anthropological Association 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ambrose, S. H. and L. Norr (1992) ‘On Stable Isotopic Data and Prehistoric Subsistence in the Soconusco Region’, Current Anthropology, 33, pp. 401–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brumfiel, E. M. (1991) ‘Weaving and Cooking: Women’s production in Aztec Mexico’, in J. M. Gero and M. W. Conkey (eds), Engendering Archaeology: Women and Prehistory (Oxford) pp. 224–54.Google Scholar
  3. Codex Mendoza (1964) ‘Codex Mendoza’ in J. C. Nunz (ed.), Antigüedades de México Basculas en la Recopilacion de Lord Kingsborough, vol. 1 Mexico, pp. 1–149.Google Scholar
  4. Devereaux, L. (1987) ‘Gender Difference and the Relation of Inequality in Zinacantan’, in M. Strathern (ed.), Dealing With Inequality (Cambridge) pp. 89–111.Google Scholar
  5. Flannery, K. V. (ed.) (1982) Maya Subsistence: Studies in memory of Dennis E. Puleston (New York).Google Scholar
  6. Gerry, J. (1993) Diet and Status among the Classic Maya: An isotopic perspective, PhD dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University.Google Scholar
  7. Harrison, P. D. and B. L. Turner II (eds) (1978) Pre-Hispanic Maya Agriculture (Albuquerque).Google Scholar
  8. Hastorf, C. A. (1991) ‘Gender, Space and Food in Prehistory’, in J. M. Gero and M. W. Conkey (eds), Engendering Archaeology: Women and Prehistory (Oxford) pp. 132–62.Google Scholar
  9. Haviland, W. A. (1967) ‘Stature at Tikal, Guatemala: Implications for Ancient Maya demography and social organization’, American Antiquity, 32 (3), pp. 316–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Joyce, R. A. (1990) The Construction of Gender in Classic Maya Monuments, paper presented in the symposium ‘The Engendered Subject: Practice and Representation in Mesoamerica’, American Anthropological Association Meeting (New Orleans).Google Scholar
  11. Joyce, R. A. (1994) Work, Ritual, Politics and Status: The changing position of women in Prehispanic Maya states, revised version of paper presented at the 92nd Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (Washington, DC).Google Scholar
  12. McCafferty, S. D. and G. G. McCafferty (1988) ‘Powerful Women and the Myth of Male Dominance in Aztec Society’, Archaelogical Review from Cambridge, 7 (1), pp. 45–59.Google Scholar
  13. Pohl, M. (1991) ‘Women, Animal Rearing, and Social Status: The case of the formative period Maya of Central America’, in D. Walde and N. D. Willows (eds), The Archaeology of Gender: Proceedings of the Twenty-Second Annual Chachmool Conference (Calgary) pp. 392–9.Google Scholar
  14. Pohl, M. (ed.) (1985) Prehistoric Lowland Maya Environment and Subsistence Economy (Cambridge, Mass).Google Scholar
  15. Reents-Budet, D. (1994) Painting the Maya Universe: Royal Ceramics of the Classic period (Durham, NC).Google Scholar
  16. Saul, F. P. (1972) The Human Skeletal Remains of Altar de Sacrificios: An osteobiographic analysis (Cambridge, Mass.).Google Scholar
  17. Sealy, J. C. (1989) Reconstruction of Later Stone Age diets in the southwestern Cape, South Africa: Evaluation and application of five isotopic and trace element techniques, PhD dissertation, University of Cape Town.Google Scholar
  18. Smith, A. L. (1972) Excavations at Altar de Sacrificios: Architecture, settlement, burials, and caches (Cambridge, Mass.).Google Scholar
  19. Taube, K. A. (1989) ‘The Maize Tamale in Classic Maya Diet, Epigraphy, and Art’, American Antiquity, 54 (1), pp. 31–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Tozzer, A. M. (1941) Landa’s Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan (Cambridge, Mass.).Google Scholar
  21. Vogt, E. Z. (1976) Tortillas for the Gods: A symbolic analysis of Zinacanteco rituals (Cambridge, Mass.).Google Scholar
  22. White, C. D. and H. P. Schwarcz (1989) ‘Ancient Maya Diet: As inferred from isotopic and elemental analysis of human bone’, Journal of Archaeological Science, 16, pp. 451–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. White, C. D., P. F. Healy and H. P. Schwarcz (1993) ‘Intensive Agriculture, Social Status, and Maya Diet at Pacbitun, Belize’, Journal of Anthropological Research, 49, pp. 347–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Wings, E. S. (1981) ‘A Comparison of Olmec and Maya Foodways’, in E. P. Benson (ed.) The Olmec and their Neighbors: Essays in Memory of Matthew W. Stirling (Washington, DC) pp. 21–8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • John P. Gerry
  • Meredith S. Chesson

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations