||Jade artifacts were among the most highly valued and widely circulated goods in Prehispanic Mesoamerica from at least the Middle Formative period (ca. 1000-400 B.C.) until the time of Spanish Conquest. For the ancient Maya, the importance of jade it clearly demonstrated by the inclusion of elaborate and abundant jade objects in many elite burials and from the many murals, stelae and painted pottery vessels depicting elites wearing abundant jade jewelry. Despite this conspicuous use, we know little about how jade was acquired, how it was shaped into objects of value, and how this production and distribution was organized.
In this paper, I explore the implications of recent archaeological research for understanding the economic importance of the production, distribution and consumption of jade artifacts among the Classic Maya. Using data from survey, excavation and analysis of over 9,000 pieces of jade debitage, I examine the organization of jade artifact production in the Middle Motagua Valley, the only positively identified jade source region in Mesoamerica. Comparing these data to production and consumption contexts elsewhere in the Maya area, I argue for a more complex, multifaceted understanding of the organization of jade artifact production and distribution. Key to understanding this system is the recognition that jade artifacts were characterized by "gradations of value" (Lesure 1999) that reflected the varied ways in which the were deployed in the formation and maintenance of social and economic relationships and in ritual practice.