The subsistence economy means the goods used for daily use by all the other classes of the society. Although two systems of economy existed, the economy was based on trade and agriculture.
The trade system was extensive with the Mesoamerica that included trading of obsidian, jade, serpentine, ceramic vases,
and feathers of Quetzalcoatl birds (Hirst, n.d). The trade network was expanded with the cities of Olmec, Zapotec, and Teotihuacan as well as other Caribbean islands and different groups in gulf coast of Mexico (Demarest, 2004). The trade relations were facilitated with efficient allocation of resources and specialization in different areas of crafts and skills (Demarest, 2004). Scholars have often used the economic laws of demand and supply to assess the ancient Mayan trade because of the vast availability of resources used by the Maya (Hirst, n.d). Given the growing population of the Maya, specialized exploitation of resources began giving the Maya specialization in trade (Hirst, n.d). This specialization combined with the availability of resources that each trade party had to offer was the key in the Maya commerce (Demarest, 2004). Many scholars believe that the long distance trade of the ancient Maya was accompanied by exchange of mathematical and writing knowledge along with other cultural manifestations (Demarest, 2004). This extensive trade network is the prime mechanism for the ancient Maya’s economic growth.
The agriculture of Maya consisted of maize, beans, cucurbits, chili peppers, amaranth, palms, cocoa, vanilla, avocado, agave, ramon, and manioc (Hirst, n.d). Irrigation canals and terraces were constructed in the Maya highlands in order to take advantage of the environment there while crops were grown on raised platforms in the Maya lowlands. The household economy of the ancient Maya was related to the subsistence economy.