This article presents a cultural reconstruction of ancient Maya economic development derived through etymological study of exchange-related terms in Mayan languages. It applies the results of historical linguistic analysis to archaeological and epigraphic data in order to gain insight into Maya economic prehistory. Cognitive spheres examined include generalized exchange, reciprocation, appropriation and vertical transfers of goods and labor, open commerce, and material valuables. Among the most poignant implications of the results are the antiquity of commerce and its rather extended evolutionary trajectory. Indicators of intense commercialization, however, are few and rather late. Widespread recognition of several elements of the diverse complex of Contact period Mesoamerican valuables can be traced only to the latter part of the Late Formative period or afterward. Evidence of formalized market systems—specifically linking commerce to towns and architectural plazas—appears only late in the Classic period. Terms associated with the hierarchical appropriation of goods and labor appear earlier and are more persistent and stable over time. In particular, there is a single widespread root for tribute obligation apparently subsuming tax, plunder, and work debt all under a single term, as well as evidence for the great antiquity of formalized servitude. Finally, various forms of general reciprocity and gifting are, as might be expected, shown to be of great diversity, complexity, and antiquity. In the course of analysis, several recent models of Mayan language interaction and diversification are examined and evaluated, and a slightly revised linguistic chronology is suggested that better reconciles linguistic data with archaeological facts as they are currently known. The results also have interesting implications for proto-Mayan geographical origins.