Two plazas at Cobá, Mexico, may have been the place of market activity during the classic Maya period. The intense decomposition in the warm, moist soils of the Yucatan Peninsula precludes the identification of organic artifacts in archaeological contexts, but phosphorus and trace elements accumulation in soils may provide evidence of marketing activities. The spatial patterns of P and trace element concentrations were used to elucidate the types of ancient Maya activities that took place in those plazas. Phosphorus concentrations are highly correlated (p-value <0.01) with Fe, Mn, and Zn levels in both Plaza B and D. Although the soil geochemistry of Plaza B does not show a marketplace pattern in comparison with previous studies, the elemental concentrations and distributions within Plaza D join other lines of evidence to support the premise that marketplace activities took place at that location. Soil samples were analyzed using DTPA extraction, Mehlich II, Olsen, and Portable X-Ray Fluorescence (PXRF). Experiments were performed to study the suitability of PXRF for field studies. Aspects that were studied include granule size, soil moisture content, protective plastic films that could interfere with the X-Ray signal when placing the samples on top of the analyzer, and a comparison of certified soil standards to the PXRF elemental concentration readings. The results suggest that a field laboratory could be set up to air-dry and sieve soil samples to a minimum mesh size of #10 (> 2 mm).



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


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geochemistry, phosphorus, Archaeometry, trace metals, marketplace, Maya economy