The ancient Maya invested prodigious amounts of labor in the construction of road systems for communication and trade, yet recent discoveries surrounding Chetumal Bay reveal an alternative and extensive network of riverine and maritime waterways. Focusing on sites ringing the bay such as Cerro Maya, Oxtankah, and Santa Rita Corozal, the contributors to this volume explore how the bay and its feeder rivers affected all aspects of Maya culture from settlement, food production, and the production and use of special goods to political relationships and social organization. Besides being a nexus for long distance exchange in valuable materials such as jade and obsidian, the region was recognized for its high quality agricultural produce, including chocolate, achiote, vanilla, local fruits, honey, and salt, and for its rich marine environment. The Maya living on the fringes of the bay perceived the entire region as a single resource procurement zone. Waterborne trade brought the world to them, providing a wider horizon than would have been available to inland cities dependent only on Maya roads for news of the world.
Debra S. Walker is a research curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, USA.