We present quantitative data on population size and plaza area in three groups of ancient Mesoamerican settlements: A sample of 30 Late Postclassic cities and towns from throughout Mesoamerica and two regional settlement systems from the Classic period, including south-central Veracruz (the Mixtequilla) and the Palenque region. Plaza size scales with population in a sublinear relationship in all three groups, meaning that larger settlements had considerably less plaza area per capita than smaller settlements. These results suggest that the currently popular interpretation drawn from Classic Maya archaeology that plazas were places designed to hold the entire urban population for passive viewing of spectacles may be incomplete. We argue that the observed quantitative relationships between population and plaza area support the notion that plazas were designed to be used for a variety of purposes-including several types of ceremonies and marketplaces-held at different times following a regular schedule.
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