Skip to comments.Top 100 Stories of 2008 #96: Ancient Traders Sailed the South American Seas
Posted on 12/06/2008 8:28:44 AM PST by SunkenCiv
Abstract: By approximately 100 BC Ecuadorian traders had established maritime commercial routes extending from Chile to Colombia. Historical sources indicate that they transported their merchandise in large, ocean-going sailing rafts made of balsa logs. By about AD 700 the data show that Ecuadorian metalworking technology had reached the west coast of Mexico but remained absent in the region between Guerrero and lower Central America. Archaeologists have argued that this technology was most plausibly transmitted via balsa raft exchange routes. This article uses mathematical simulation of balsa raftsâ mechanical and material characteristics to determine whether these rafts were suitable vessels for long- distance travel. Our analysis shows that these rafts were fully functional sailing vessels that could have navigated between Ecuador and Mexico. This conclusion greatly strengthens the argument that Ecuadorian metallurgical technology and aspects of the metallurgical technologies of adjacent South American regions were transmitted from South America to western Mexico via maritime trade routes.
(Excerpt) Read more at unm.edu ...
Ancient Traders Sailed the South American SeasMore than a thousand years ago, Ecuadoran traders were regularly traveling to western Mexico and back, a round trip of about 3,800 miles. And they were probably going by way of sail-bearing balsa rafts, according to an analysis conducted by Leslie Dewan, an MIT doctoral candidate in nuclear engineering, and her colleagues.
by Andrew Grant
online December 4, 2008
Archaeologists have long wondered why copper work and other metalwork in a style typical of ancient South America appears in western Mexico but nowhere in between the two areas. This absence suggested a sea-based trade, so Dewan's group decided to explore whether such lengthy voyages were feasible. They based their mathematical study of seaworthiness on 16th-century European explorers' descriptions of Native American trading vessels in western Mexico. The explorers wrote of seeing rectangular, two-sailed vessels made of balsa, a wood native to Ecuador, tied together with a hemplike fiber. Reaching about 35 feet in length, the rafts could probably have borne up to 30 metric tons of cargo -- as much as 19th-century barges did in the Erie Canal. The team's analysis, published last spring in the Journal of Anthropological Research, also evaluated the role of wind and water currents, concluding that the traders may have spent a few months in Mexico and returned when currents shifted.
Dewan's team is preparing to sail a small balsa raft between Boston and Provincetown, Massachusetts, this spring. Their ultimate goal is to construct an actual-size model for the trip from Ecuador to Mexico -- just as they theorize it was done 1,300 years ago.
Thor Heyerdahl ping. To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.
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Dewan's team is preparing to sail a small balsa raft between Boston and Provincetown, Massachusetts, this spring. Their ultimate goal is to construct an actual-size model for the trip from Ecuador to Mexico. -- just as they theorize it was done 1,300 years ago.Okay, I'm not a sailor -- but I'm pretty sure that the conditions of the North Atlantic and Cape Cod Bay in spring are not the same as the Pacific Ocean at the equator - where Ecuador is located.
Ergo, this experiment will prove exactly what if the conditions aren't the same?
So Puerto Vallarta was a popular place way back then...
The lack of copper metalworking in the Central American area might have something to do with the lack of copper.
I doubt these traders mysteriously sailed direct to western Mexico and miraculously found they had reached another copper rich area.
In all probability, the rafts followed the coast for years, extending their range and trading as they went until they reached the copper rich areas.
That if you drop a few thousand dollars in supplies to make a raft and write it up in a scholarly magazine, you can parlay that into a multi-hundred-thousand dollar free "research" trip in the tropics!
Brilliant really, if you look at in in the right light...
Odd that potatoes, domesticated guinea pigs and llamas and other aspects of the Andean civilizations didn’t make it to Mesoamerica. Also the idea of writing, well-established by then in Meso, didn’t make it to the S. America.
Copper chisles played a major role in Captain Gray’s late 1800’s trade with the Pacific Northwest indians.
Late 1700’s, Late 1700’s
Ah yes, that’s when the Spaniards saw them-but who knows how long the trade had gone on?
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