The functional unit of Puuc architecture is a raised platform plus the buildings and rooms that enclose and articulate it. In short, buildings and rooms plus the enclosed outdoor patio area and its functionality all work together to creates architectural meaning.
According to Tomás Gallareta, the West Patio of the Palace most probably was a preparation area for food served in the Palace during its heyday during the Late and Terminal Classic. He discusses the following considerations:
Rooms 37–40 (long structure extending from left to center of photo) was low basal structure upon which were erected four rooms with thatched roofs. This type of building is found nowhere else in the Palace area and is diagnostic of food preparation areas throughout the region.
Exploratory pits dug outside the patio wall behind these rooms revealed that the area was a midden for broken pottery shards of a type contemporaneous with activities centered in the main areas of the Palace.
Turtle shell type metates with narrow and deep working areas used for grinding corn into nixtamal for tamales and tortillas were found near Room 37. Two such matates can be seen lying on the ground about 10 ft in front of Room 37 in the photo.
Finally, the east side of the patio is defined by the featureless rear wall of the oldest building in the lower story of the Palace. Gallareta speculates that the flat rear wall works more like a curtain and that perhaps it was not replaced because it totally blocks the view of the Central Patio from the West Patio and vice versa.
Manuel Tomás Gallareta Negrón, The Social Organization of Labna, a Classic Maya Community in the Puuc Region of Yucatan, Mexico, Ph.D. Dissertation, Tulane University, 2013, p. 26
1st Construction Phase = yellow-green
2nd Construction Phase = orange
3rd Construction Phase = blue
Building form, closeness to grinding implements and density of ceramic remains close by, supports the conclusion that Rooms 37 to 40 and the open areas functioned as a food preparation court.
However, Rooms 37—40 were the last to be built in this area, thus the conversion of the West Court to a food preparation area dates to the final building phase of the Palace.
Map detail from H.E.D. Pollock, The Puuc: An Architectural Survey of the Hill Country of Yucatan and Northern Campeche, Mexico, Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University, 1980, p. 8
A few notes on post-abandonment occupation of the Palace
" We know that sections of the central open area along the causeway and several patios of Labna functioned as cattle enclosures during the time Edward Thompson explored the site by the end of the 19th Century. Thompson’s map of Labná shows the dry laid walls made with veneer and other carved stones were taken from the nearest masonry buildings.
Post abandonment occupation prior to the late XIX Century was probably associated with good seasonal rains. Water stored in old cisterns in the Palace, as well as in the chultun in the East Wing of the upper level, reported by Stephens and Thompson, provided some extra provisions for enlarging the stay during the dry season.
We know, however, that four rooms (32-35) of the West Wing have standing vaults, so they could be used as dwellings/shelters by Maya seasonal farmers and their families.
The presence of people living or camping in the Palace of Labna as squatters, hunters, seasonal farmers and their families, cowboys, and INAH guards after the Terminal Classic abandonment is not a speculation."
Gallareta Negrón, pages 280, 283