Home Up Background Sacbes Lagoon Edge Canal Trade Summary


Sea route summary

            This chapter began by highlighting the attraction that visitors feel toward the Muyil connection with the Caribbean — an attraction that I believe the ancient Maya also felt. The sacbe system and sea route form a path from the center of Muyil directly to the Caribbean at Boca Paila. The temple at Vigía del Lago in the East Coast Style and the associated Late Postclassic ceramics are compelling evidence that the canal was in use during the Postclassic.

            At the site, to review my earlier points, the sacbe system includes:  five east-west linear segments, of which four are about 125 m long; westward facing structures at the eastern terminus of four of the five segments (the front of the fifth is unclear); a western terminus in the oldest area of the site; a unique, possibly Classic, twin structure connecting Sacbes 2 and 3; no obvious port facilities, as, for example, are found at Isla Cerritos; temple-pyramids and ceramics (Chen Mul Modeled censers) that strongly suggest ritual use as well as commercial use of the sacbes; and four different construction techniques — earthen fill, rubble fill, vertical sides and slab base, and paving stone.

            The easternmost structure at Muyil, Structure 12H-1, is 140 m from the water's edge on the Muyil lagoon. I believe that in Postclassic times, the edge of the lagoon may have been quite close to this structure, but has receded eastward since the Postclassic due to soil formation. In the Postclassic, canoes may have been launched adjacent to this temple. In the Classic, the edge of the Muyil lagoon may have been even closer to Structure 10H-1. Sacbes 5 and 6 are probably Late Postclassic extensions to cross marshy soil to a shoreline which had receded from the site.

            I believe that the canal linking the Muyil lagoon and the Chunyaxche lagoon is a natural one. It was probably cleared and dredged, and might have been straightened in this century. Similar work on the channel would have been simple for the preconquest Maya of Muyil, but there is no evidence of such work today.

            The route from the Chunyaxche lagoon to Boca Paila (Cayo Venado) has meander channels that mark it unquestionably as a natural watercourse. The temple at Vigía del Lago marks the entrance to the channel from the Chunyaxche lagoon. Where the channel empties into the brackish water near the coast, the change in the color of the water as well as the change in salinity make it possible for traffic arriving from the coast to locate the channel after passing through Boca Paila. Boca Paila itself has been known from the time of the Darreygosa account of 1579 (see Chapter 1).

            I conclude that the water route from Muyil to the Caribbean is of natural origin, that it has been in use since the site was first settled, and that it was of great importance to the site in all periods thereafter. Since Muyil is the only site in the nearby area to have produced Middle Formative ceramics thus far, the mere presence of the natural route from the Caribbean to a well-protected anchorage, high knoll, abundant fresh water, and caves might have been the chief reason for Muyil's early settlement.

            The importance of the water route was reinforced by the infrastructure built to enhance it: the sacbe system on the karstic shelf, the Castillo, other structures along the sacbes, the Postclassic construction of Sacbe 1, the extension of the sacbes over marshy soil, and the temple at Vigía del Lago. By the Late Postclassic, the Maya of Muyil had constructed an arrow of masonry — the sacbe system — pointing directly to the sea route and providing direct access to it. The structures with their westward-facing stairways naturally reinforced the sanctity of mission of pilgrim-traders traveling eastward to the water's edge. The tallest, the Castillo, provides a vista of the lagoons, and a view of newly-arriving canoes well before they reach the western shore of the Muyil lagoon.

            The long period of use of the route is documented not only by the general presence at Muyil of ceramics from all periods from the Middle Formative to the Late Postclassic, but also by the ceramics associated with the sacbes: Middle and Late Formative ceramics are found near the western terminus; exclusively Postclassic ceramics are found associated with the eastern segments.

            The water route is naturally linked with Maya trade. For example, the presence of Belize ceramics at Muyil may be due in part to the short coastal route from the Chetumal area and the rivers of northern Belize to Muyil. The vigorous coastal trade of Chichen Itza is well documented at Isla Cerritos and Cozumel among other sites. The presence at Muyil, therefore, of the ceramics of Chichen Itza, suggests the use of the water route for this trade in the Terminal Classic. The abundant fragments of Late Postclassic Chen Mul Modeled anthropomorphic censers documents the active sea trade between Muyil and the other east coast trade and pilgrimage sites of Quintana Roo which have similarly abundant censer material.

            In sum, the water route to the Caribbean made Muyil attractive to Preclassic settlers, useful to the Classic traders of Belize, valuable as a port to Coba during the Classic, accessible to Chichen Itza traders traveling along the coast in the Terminal Classic, and an active participant with other east coast sites in the Postclassic resurgence.  

© Copyright 2000-2005 Walter R. T. Witschey   Page last updated Wednesday, April 02, 2008