After reading through Federico Fahsen's summary of the history of the Pasion/Usu' river system, I just had to make a few more comments. I was thrilled to see the case for the importance of the river trade routes laid out well. Their key role in long distance trade, and the vicious warring over the wealth flowing along them, seems fully understood. He also articulated a key observation, that "Each major center is located at critical portages, junctures of tributaries, or other loci". So, quibbling over some details should not be meant to take away from that. Rather, I think Dr. Fahsen has done very well while having some rather incomplete info on the rivers.
"The river route begins in Cancuen to the south, where it becomes navigable, and connects the the highlands of Guatemala to the great capitals." True and not true. I think this reflects Demarest's fixed idea that Cancuen is the head of navigation for the Pasion. Cancuen probably was head of navigation for the big boys, pitpans over 8 meters long. Smaller canoes could keep going south up the Rio Sebol for another 68 km. Steve Radzi and John Montgomery have both traveled the Sebol, so it is navigable. Dr. Fahsen is right about the link to the highlands. Obsidian, which is just a load of heavy rocks until worked, would have flowed from El Chayal down the rivers, the easy way to go.
"This route ... served to connect with central Peten by trails, and to the Caribbean through the San Juan-Salsipuedes-Mopan river systems or through the Machaquila-Mopan rivers (Laporte and Mejian 2002)". Actually, the first route is almost right, but the second impossible by canoe. From Cancuen to Ceibal, the eastern tributaries of the Pasion are brawling whitewater rivers tumbling through the karstlands between the the Maya Mtns and the Pasion. The San Juan is navigable for only the last 9 km and the Machaquila even less. A canoe route using the Machaquila is out of the question. Tammy Ridenour runs whitewater raft trips down it.
If one started at Ceibal, and went up the San Martin for about 12 km, they could then go overland to the Mopan (or the Salsipuedes in the wet season) and run down that until rapids started. A carry from Tziquin Tzacan to Xunantunich, across a long loop of the river, would reach the next navigable water- for medium sized canoes. The big boats could get up the Belize River only to Cahal Pech, modern Cayo San Ignacio.
My last observation is that two elements are left out of the picture: salt and Altar de Sacrificios. In the entire upper Usu'/Pasion basin there is only one salt source, at Nueve Cerros, and Altar' controlled it. A natural fortress on a neck of land, Altar' was also postioned to control ALL river trade between the Pasion and Salinas rivers, and the Usumacinta downstream too. Dos Pilas is near the midpoint of a practical carry across the neck of the broad peninsula between the Salinas and Petexbatun rivers. Such a carry would have diverted Salinas-Pasion trade around Altar' and cut it off at the knees. I don't know all the ins and outs, but I'd be surprised if Altar de Sacrificios wasn't in the thick of it.
RonPosted by Dave at August 15, 2003 05:48 PM