General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 5 Aug 2020/6 Lizard
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Professor Jennifer Mathews

Question for July 2020

How many people lived in a house (2)? Asked by Shinfield St Mary’s CE Junior School. Chosen and answered by Professor Jennifer Mathews.

Artist’s impression of a Maya farmer’s family eating a meal outside their house
Artist’s impression of a Maya farmer’s family eating a meal outside their house (Click on image to enlarge)

This is a fantastic question! It would depend if you were an elite person or not, however, I will answer this in terms of what it would be like for the average person. Although we can never know exactly how many people may have lived in a house that we might find at an archaeological site, the universal average for the ancient world was that one person required 5 square metres of space. Thus, if we want to estimate how many people lived in a house, we look at the footprint (by measuring the length and width of the remaining exterior walls) and estimate the total size of the space and divide by 5 square metres. Although many of us today live in large houses and may have entire rooms to ourselves, ancient people would have had much less privacy. However, we should remember that many activities (crafts such as making ceramics or stone tools) would have occurred in the patios outside of the house structure, and farmers and hunters would have been in the fields or the jungle for much of their day.

Pic 1: Artist’s impression of a Mexica family welcoming someone to their house in the evening; illustration by Felipe Dávalos
Pic 1: Artist’s impression of a Mexica family welcoming someone to their house in the evening; illustration by Felipe Dávalos (Click on image to enlarge)

Based on images in art, books, and described in mythology, the ancient Maya and Aztec generally engaged in traditional gender roles. This means that usually women would have spent more time inside the home cooking and caring for children, and maintaining the gardens and animals (such as dogs, deer, and coatimundis) in the spaces immediately around the house. Men and boys would have been more likely to hunt and farm, although I’m sure there were exceptions to this.

Picture sources:-
• Main pic: illustration by and thanks to Steve Radzi
• Pic 1: Illustration by and courtesy of Felipe Dávalos, scanned from Cautivos en el altiplano by Federico Navarrete, Historias de México, vol. III no. 1, Fondo de Cultura Economica, Mexico City, 2000.

See another answer to this question from Panel of Experts member Nicholas James

Professor Jennifer Mathews has answered 4 questions altogether:

Is the chewing gum tree only found in Mexico?

I’ve read that the ancient Greeks chewed gum too: who were first to chew gum, the ancient Greeks or the ancient Mexicans?

Were there any lady [Maya] rulers?

How many people lived in a house (2)?

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