The Hidden World of the Maritime Maya: Lost Landscapes Along the North Coast of Quintana Roo, Mexico

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At the northeast tip of the Yucatán Peninsula - where the Caribbean meets the Gulf of Mexico - lies a wild and largely unexplored coastline that bore witness to one of the greatest seafaring traditions of the ancient New World (Fig. 11.1). Maya traders once plied the waters of the Laguna Holbox in massive dugout canoes filled with goods from across Mesoamerica (Thompson 1949; Edwards 1973, p. 201; Romero 1991; Romero and Gurrola Briones 1991, 1995; Leshikar 1996). Each port was a link in a chain connecting people and ideas, and supporting the ambitions of city and state. Maritime trade and interaction on the Caribbean coast of the Peninsula reached its fluorescence on the eve of Spanish contact during the Postclassic period (AD 1100-1521). The once bustling towns of Xcaret and Xamanha were the ports of embarkation for Cozumel - one of the most important pilgrimage destinations and centers of commerce during this late period (Andrews and Andrews 1975; Sabloff and Rathje 1975; Con Uribe and Jordán 1992). While accommodating a steady stream of travelers and traders, these sister centers no doubt supported, and were supported by, their near-coastal hinterlands, which comprised one of the most densely populated maritime cultural landscapes in the Maya area (Silva Rhoads and Hernández 1991; Goñi 1998; Martos López 2002). To the south, Tancah and Tulum dominated Postclassic coastal interaction. Evident in the region's mural art is a rich synthesis of broader Mesoamerican ideas and influences, which speak to the connectedness and multicultural fluency of coastal peoples at this time (Miller 1977, 1982).


Ben Ford






New York



Publication Information

The Archaeology of Maritime Landscapes