General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Sep 2017/11 Vulture
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Illustration of a typical common Maya farmer’s family house, all sleeping

RESOURCE: A Maya farmer’s house

Whilst there’s no evidence to suggest that the ancient Maya used hammocks - so popular today - we DO know that, like the Aztecs, they slept on simple reed mat beds, often raised off the ground by rods. And whilst up to 9 Maya families out of 10 were farmers, fishers, or hunter/gatherers, in the words of one scholar ‘farmers remain silent to us’ because so little by way of the physical remains of their way of life remain today for us to study - compared to that of the rich nobility... (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: A drawing of a Maya ‘compound’, home to several families
Pic 1: A drawing of a Maya ‘compound’, home to several families (Click on image to enlarge)

For starters, the houses of ‘common’ Maya folk were made of organic, degradable materials (wood, thatch, vine, reed, ‘wattle and daub’ - wooden strips woven together, covered in cheapo clay/mud ‘plaster’...) so no ancient ones exist today. Often composed of a single rectangular room/space, simple houses had no windows and one, east-facing, door. Just one room sounds very cramped for a family, but one household might well spread its time between different (shared) buildings - home, kitchen, storehouse, workshop, sweatbath... - built around a square patio (pic 1). Mum and Dad usually lived with their children in a single house, but their ‘extended’ family may well have lived very close by, as part of a ‘compound’, that included plenty of open-air spaces for communal activities and storage. Nearby would be a kitchen garden. The centre of the home was always marked by 3 hearthstones (for a fire - pic 2) - these stones were sacred (follow link below to learn more...)

Pic 2: A Maya woman prepares to heat a drink over a fire guarded by three hearthstones; notice the grinding stone beside her
Pic 2: A Maya woman prepares to heat a drink over a fire guarded by three hearthstones; notice the grinding stone beside her (Click on image to enlarge)

Actually cooking was usually done either in a separate kitchen, or outside, under the overhanging thatch eaves (one scholar writes that most Maya houses ‘had more roofed space outside the walls than inside’). Furniture was sparse and practical: beds (with cotton blankets), a bench (more likely made of adobe or mud brick than wooden), cooking equipment, work tools (farming, spinning...), plenty of ceramic pots for cooking and for storing and carrying water and grains... If the family could afford it, the lower part of the walls might be made of stone and/or painted with lime whitewash to lighten the feeling of the room a little (see pic 1), and floors might be raised slightly, on adobe platforms (occasionally wooden floor boards were used). Meals could be taken outdoors or indoors; some accounts suggest that women and men ate separately, and the menfolk were always fed first, followed by the ladies!

Pic 3: The main family meal took place in the afternoon, after the men had returned from the fields
Pic 3: The main family meal took place in the afternoon, after the men had returned from the fields (Click on image to enlarge)

Very generally, the men did the farming, harvesting, house-building (this was always carried out communally, shared with other families), repair work, firewood chopping, and tool making and servicing, whilst the women did the cooking, cleaning, weaving and spinning, pottery and gourd making, animal raising, gardening, and marketing.
The most basic diet consisted of maize (corn) and beans, but this was generally supplemented with vegetables, squash, chilli, avocado and other fruits, and, on special days, with meat from turkeys, dogs, armadillos, deer, iguanas, turtles, and fish. To drink there was water, maize beer, cactus juice and... cocoa! In fact one source claims that, all things being equal, the diet of a commoner family ‘was as varied as that of the Maya nobility’...

Picture sources:-
• Colour illustrations drawn for Mexicolore by, courtesy of and © Steve Radzi
• B/w reconstruction drawing of a patio group at Aguateca by Takeshi Inomata, scanned from our own copy of The Classic Maya by Stephen D. Houston and Takeshi Inomata, Cambridge University Press, 2009, p. 225.

Info from various sources, but mainly The Classic Maya, above.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Aug 21st 2014

‘Why always THREE hearthstones...?’

See examples of traditional Maya house designs
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