Mayan System of Transportation

Mayan System of Transportation




Download the .pdf here!


Mayan Systems of Transportation


It is believed that all Mayan ceremonial centers were connected by a series of roads. However, the exact extent of the ancient system of roadways will probably never be known because much of it has been destroyed by centuries of vegetation growth and modernization. These “white roads” were constructed out of large stones which were overlaid by rubble. After the rubble was laid, large cylindrical stones were rolled over the surface compacting the roads. Next, they were surfaced with a smooth layer of stucco or cement.

The Mayans called these roads, sacbeobs, and in most instances they were raised from 2 to 4 feet above the ground level. However, in areas where the roads crossed swamps they could be as high as 8 feet. The width usually depended on the amount of traffic, but normally they were twelve to thirty-two feet in width. The sacbeobs frequently connected important buildings and complexes. Also, Mayan ceremonial centers were connected to outlying districts by a network of roads that extended well into the countryside. The longest sacbeod or white road discovered stretched from Coba in Quintana Roo to Yaxuna. This is a distance of over sixty miles. Historians believe that the longest Mayan roads were over 100 kilometers in length. However, little evidence exists 1,100 years later.

The Mayan Civilization covered approximately 325,000 square miles. In a territory this vast there were products that were plentiful in one area, while completely lacking in others. For example, cacao grew well in Tabasco, and the highly prized Quetzal feathers were found on the Chiapas-Guatemalan border. This required that commercial trading cover long distances. Commodities such as honey, cotton textiles, rubber, dyes, tobacco, pottery, feathers, and animal skins were regularly exported by the Mayans to Chiapas, Guatemala, and El Salvador. In fact, Mayan macaw feathers have been excavated as far away as Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

Coastal Mayan groups used canoes to supply inland groups with salt, dried fish, shells, and pearls. The Mayans had no beasts of burden or wheels to carry their heavy loads. Instead, trade goods were transported on the backs of slaves who traveled along well established routes. However, most merchants found it much easier to use a canoe. Canoes were carved out of enormous trees, and were approximately 50 feet in length. Canoes transported goods to towns along the coast, never traveling very far from land. From the coastal towns the goods would be transported to the inland towns. This method of commerce was still in place when the Spaniards arrived.

Salted and dried meats were especially prized. Some time around 900 AD, turquoise, gold, and copper objects from Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, and Columbia began to appear. Almost all of the commerce was controlled by wealthy merchants. These merchants used cacao beans for currency, and the beans had a fixed market price.