Land of Sweetness: A Pre-Columbian Timeline

Here goes nothing.


The night was deep on Guanahani Island, and the world was asleep. The heavens were black, the stars and the half-moon’s steady light alone illuminating the rows of ripening maize and drying fish. Even the parrots were quiet. Only the whistles of the hutias and the crashing of the waves disturbed the silence of the night – not that there was anyone to hear them. It was the time of day and year when women and children dozed in their cottages, waiting for the men to return from the country of the Caniba.

“Don’t go in the woods after dark,” mothers here would tell their children, “there might be Caniba out there, and they’re more than happy to eat you.” The people of these islands called themselves Yucayans, “Islanders.” But to be a Yucayan was more than to simply live on an island. Yucayans possessed the spirit of taiguan, the essence of civilized life. The Caniba, the Yucayan name for the tribal peoples to their north and south, did not. So they were inferior. The Caniba, it was said, did not know how to build with stone. They were too ignorant to read or write, to irrigate their maize and manioc, or even to have monarchs and ministers. If you believed the rumors, some Caniba had sex with their daughters and feasted each night on human flesh.

In a word, they were savages.

Men from Guanahani and the other Cicayan Islands had more experience with the Caniba than almost any other Yucayan. The Military Governor of the Cicayans led annual expeditions against the Caniba who lived in the big peninsula to the north. Many decades ago, the old men said, every adult man had had to serve in these campaigns. Those days were long past. Nowadays the Governor conscripted men from only a few islands at a time. It was Guanahani’s turn this year, and so the young chief of the island and most of the other men were absent from the island. Some of the Guanahani youth even wondered whether the expeditions would still take place when they were old. With every passing year, it seemed there were more and more Yucayans and less and less Caniba.

No wonder this was happening; the Military Governor had to capture 1,500 Caniba slaves each year, preferably women and children. Demand for slaves was high in the city of Cocopan, and enslaving the Caniba was an easy way for the His Highness the Guacayaraboque to both make money and introduce the barbarians to civilization. The Cicayan men themselves partook in the profits of slaving. The women and children left behind on Guanahani may have known little about the exact way slaves were caught and sold, but all but the very youngest could remember what the men would bring back with them upon their return.

There were rolls and rolls of fine cotton cloth, straight from the Cocopan workshops and colored with every hue of red cochineal dye, some so brilliant that the women said the cotton plants must have been watered with blood, others the very shade of the clouds at sunset. There was gold and guanin and pearls galore, in every conceivable form of jewelry: necklaces, earrings, bracelets, piercings… The men brought Cocopan ceramics, too, just like the skin of toddlers: perfect, unblemished, and marvelously smooth to the touch. The people of Guanahani called them “baby-skin pots.”

Some of the islanders brought things from further afield, across the vast western seas. Silver, copper, and bronze jewelry from the mysterious land of Tzintzuntzan never failed to dazzle the villagers. A gaggle of adolescent boys would always crowd about the newest obsidian blades from faraway K'iche' country, while their mothers hurried to see if their husbands had managed to bring high-quality salt and honey from the Yucatan (a rare commodity nowadays, ever since the Maya started embargoing Cocopan). There had been great commotion on Guanahani a few years ago when the chief arrived with a treasure the likes of which not even the oldest islanders could remember seeing: a golden statuette of some mythological four-legged beast. The chief announced that this marvel hailed from a land very far to the south where every house was made of gold and silver, and where these four-legged beasts actually existed and were used to carry goods. Nobody believed him, of course. How could a dumb animal ever do what only human porters could? Still, people marveled.

And what stories the men brought back with them! They always began believably enough:

“Let me tell you about that one time I fought a Caniba with my bare hands…”

“You should’ve been with us at Cocopan! A single street there has more houses than our entire island, can you imagine?”

“The Guacayaraboque’s ships could hold ten of our fishing boats. They have as many sails, too!”​

But their tales would grow wider with each gulp of the palm wine:

“The people at Cocopan build mountains out of stone!” “You mean the city sits around a mountain?” “No, no, you wouldn’t understand. They built a square mountain out of bare stone with their bare hands, all to honor their quetzal god.”

“The Caniba don’t eat maize. Well, it’s more than that. They don’t eat anything at all that comes from the earth. Only meat.” “What kind of meat?” “Human, of course. What else could such savages eat?”

“Has anyone told you about the Mexicans in Cocopan? These folks build stone mountains, too, in their ward by the harbor. Every day they hold a lottery, and the Mexicans kill whoever is selected the next day. They carve the hearts out, like some other people do down south in the city.” “Have you seen those Mexican lotteries, uncle?” “Well, no, but what they say is…”​

And nobody believed what the drunk men said as the last flames of the return feast died out:

“Come here, girl… I’ll tell you what your papa did in the north. I fought Caniba. They had five legs! Can you believe that? Five legs! And as many heads! They have eyes on the back of these six heads – or was it five heads? I’m not sure now, but they sure had heads, the savages. And when the savages look at us Yucayans with these eyes – hiccup – what was I saying now? Ah, right, their evil eyes. See, girl, let me tell you about these eyes…” “Dad, it’s the dead of night. Let’s go home now.”​

No matter how farfetched the men’s tales might be, they were the amusement of the decade for the villagers of Guanahani. The treasures the men brought back were likewise irreplaceable. Whenever the men returned, the islanders lived like kings for a few months: the sweetest honey, the reddest cloth, even a little jewelry for everybody. Guanahani men risked their lives in the lands of Caniba, remembering how admiring their wives’ and children’s eyes would be.

Not all men went, but most did. Two hundred had gone this year, leaving a mere fifty adult men behind. A few were too old, like the chief’s thin and sallow father who ruled the island in the absence of his son. About twenty warriors were left behind to protect the island against any Caniba attack, though nobody alive could remember any such event in Yucayan territory these past fifty years. There was a group of fishermen, too, whose presence was the talk of the year. They had been judged unfit to fight due to having broken legs, but everyone knew that they had injured their legs intentionally to avoid conscription. “Cowardly bastards,” the women said out loud whenever they happened to hobble by. “You’ll see what happens when our husbands come back, with gold in their hands, not your fish.”

But it was night now. Those fishermen, and the other men who had been left behind, and the hundreds of women and children too, were asleep. Guanahani dozed, dreaming of another year of prosperity, of gold and silver and adventure stories.

As Guanahani slumbered, three ships approached from a world away.


Excerpt from the Journal of Christopher Columbus.

In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ…

Friday, 12 October, 1492.

At two o'clock in the morning the land was discovered, at two leagues' distance. They [Columbus’s crew] took in sail and remained under the square-sail lying to till day, which was Friday, when they found themselves near a small island... Presently they descried people, naked, and the Admiral landed in the boat, which was armed, along with Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and Vincent Yanez his brother, captain of the Nina. The Admiral bore the royal standard, and the two captains each a banner of the Green Cross, which all the ships had carried; this contained the initials of the names of the King and Queen each side of the cross, and a crown over each letter. Arrived on shore, they saw trees very green, many streams of water, and diverse sorts of fruits…

Numbers of the people of the island straightway collected together. Here follow the precise words of the Admiral [Christopher Columbus]:

“Though the Indians were stark naked even to their private parts, they appeared to be fishermen by their hooks and nets. We thought it curious that they all walked with a limp. I presented them with some red caps, and strings of beads to wear upon the neck, and many other trifles of small value. They did not deign to take any of what we offered, or even to touch us. To such a degree did the barbarians fear our arms.

“The Indians being naked and unarmed, I saw it fit to plant the banner of the Cross and the standard of the Most Christian King and Queen of Spain on the soil of this land. This furthermost island of the Indies was thus taken into possession by Their High and Excellent Highnesses. The Indians muttered and looked at us with approbation as we did so. One of them, an old man, approached us, shouting, and touched the length of the blade of our sword, as innocently as if he had never seen steel before. He cut himself on the finger and flinched, crying out to his people again and again: ‘Rucanacu, rucanacu, macuri!’ Then the Indians fled into the woods, hobbling all the way.

“We Christians watched them go with some anxiety. We were alone in a foreign land, the country of a strange and unknown people whom we could no longer see. The Indians had fled, and the Christians knew no longer where the barbarians might be.

“An hour or so passed in such a manner. At last, about twenty Indian warriors came down to meet us, at their head the king of the island, an old man with a thin beard and equally thin of countenance. This lord was wrapped in a red and white cotton robe that trailed below the litter on which they carried him aloft, and the delight of the cloth and its radiant patterns, I remember, defied all description. The gold and pearls of his many ornaments – earrings, necklaces, bracelets – glittered in the sun. The Christians looked at him and said: ‘Look at that gold! We are really in the Indies! This man can be no other than a vassal of the Great Khan!’

“From head to toe, the Indian royal guard was all dressed in padded white cotton, this seeming to serve as their armor. They were armed but with long wooden javelins in one hand and a bow in the other, with a quiverful of arrows tied to the back by some string. All their arms had only stone for tips. The warriors of this quarter of the Indies are, then, a poor match for the armies of Christendom. So inexperienced did they appear in war-like matters that I thought I could surely conquer the whole island with only a small company.

“The Indian warriors had been murmuring all along, yet when their king spoke, they all fell silent at once. The lord spoke at length, uttering a long tirade in his language (much like the speech of Florence) and in a most mellifluous voice, though we understood not a word of it. Only a few sounds which he repeated over and over again could be made out: ‘Copao, Mecica, Coatiziti.’ We wondered, as if in a dream, what all these flowing words might mean.

“When the king stopped speaking and gazed at us with an inquiring expression, we asked him in our turn, in each language that we knew: ‘Are you Christians? Do you know the Great Khan?’ The Indian seemed to understand our questions as little as we had his. One of us pointed to his earrings and repeated slowly, ‘Gold, gold. Is there gold here?’ The king responded, ‘Tatiqui!’ and swatted his ear, making his earrings chime. Perhaps this was their word for gold. I do not know.

“Upon us repeating for him the word ‘Great Khan,’ the Indian king seemed to ponder, then spat out the words ‘Cannibal!’ and frowned in disgust. From this gesture, and from the first three letters of this Indian word ‘Cannibal’ [“Khan” was Can in Columbus’s Spanish], we supposed that these so-called Cannibals were the soldiers of the Great Khan of whom Marco Polo spoke. By the king’s revulsion the people of this island must have been enemies rather than vassals of the Khan.

“We were all disappointed to have known this. Yet what joy we still evinced, to have found that this king from the farthest ends of the earth had heard of the Khan, to know that the Khan was near!”​
So the Taino developed a civilization as advanced as those of central America due to contact with the peoples of Mexico, and Columbus has been mistaken for a literal cannibal?

Nice. :p

Given how they seem to regard the Caniba as being only a few steps above rabid animals, I doubt they adopted Mesoamerica's penchant for human sacrifice alongside their building techniques and crops.
Entry 1: Introduction to the historiography of early Yucayan civilization
From Bird-Canoes, World-Conquerors: Commerce and Revolution in America in the Long Fourteenth Century

For the people of the Taiguano Empire, history began in 1367, in the Battle of Ximani. Everything before 1367 was ignorance and darkness, the terrible and frightful time the Taiguano remembered as the Age of Caciques. Those were the days of terrible god-kings who ate human flesh for magical potency, of Yucayans being sold as slaves as if they were Caniba. The kings of the Age of Caciques worshipped savage idols, bloodstained effigies of gold and silver and bronze. There were no pyramids in the Age of Caciques, it was said, only rectangular temples, and here the kings would hold their most savage rituals at dead of night, with the hearts torn out from thousands of slaves in a single hour while the shamans danced as they watched, twirling their robes of flayed skin and chanting songs of dark power. The people were slaves to the idols. Bacocolon, the patron god of humanity, was long forgotten.

This was the image of the past that the Taiguano elite – the victors of Ximani – presented. To solidify their control over historical memory, the early Taiguano state publicly burned all histories and records predating the year 1414. Their rationales were nothing short of Orwellian:

“May the old books burn, may their ashes scatter to the far reaches of the Earth.

“We burn all these pages, full of lies and nothing more. These are falsehoods that the idols whispered to the shamans, the conjurers, and other sorts of gullible men. The idols are powerless by themselves. Can an idol move its hands to eat? Can it move its feet to walk and run? Yet they are very powerful for the foolishness of men. They whisper, as a prostitute whispers, ‘Feed me, move me, serve me as your master and be my slave.’ Man listens and obeys. He becomes the most abject slave of the idol, even though he could overthrow his master of wood and stone at any moment. He forgets Bacocolon. And men teach their children the whispering lies of the idols and write it down in books, so that all their descendants will be slaves evermore.

“Burn, burn the teachings of the idols; may we be freed from their clammy stone hands.

“The histories of the old kings are the histories of the idols; may we burn them, so the idols no longer be remembered by men. The songs of the old kings are the songs of the idols; may we burn them, so the idols no longer pollute our ears. The laws of the old kings are the laws of the idols; may we burn them, so the idols no longer decree our lives.

“May the idols die. May their rites and their histories be forgotten to all humanity, and the idols thereby die a second death.

“Bacocolon, accept the sacrifice of these idolatrous books, a worthy sacrifice.”​

Archaeologists have thus far been unable to recover any of the texts lost in the burnings. We have no king-list, nor any other reliable source of textual information, for any realm during the Age of Caciques. All we have is mute archaeology and Taiguano propaganda, hardly ideal sources for the study of the formative era of Yucayan civilization.

For centuries, European historians have accepted Taiguano propaganda about the evils of their predecessors as gospel. An early English-language account of the empire notes:

There are two Religions in the Weſt Indies, on the one Hand the Cult of the Idols & on the other the Cult of Prometheus. Tho the Common People be much deluded by the former, all the Kings and Dukes and Grandees worſhip Prometheus alone…

Many hundreds of years ago, even the Lords of the Indies followed ſolely the Idols, and they were all great Enchanters & uſed many charms of witchcraft. Theſe ancient Lords were a wicked Race, prone to the eating of man-fleſh… The Indians ſay Prometheus, in grief over the condition of the Race to whom he granted Fire, brought down theſe lords and gave authority to the Forefather of their current Kings, ſo that he end the Tyrannies and Iniquities of the Idolaters. And the Nobles of the Indians worſhip but Prometheus to this day.​

Only recently have historians dared to challenge the basic tenets of the Taiguano account.

Although the Taiguano state was the largest, most powerful, and most enduring of the Yucayan polities of 1492, it did not exist in a vacuum. Cuba and Jamaica, after all, were ruled by independent or autonomous kingdoms and republics that rejected the faith of Bacocolon. But even most Cuban and Jamaican chronicles contain little real information on the Age of Caciques. Both islands had undergone revolution in the fourteenth century, and as with the Taiguano revolution, the old books were burnt in a sort of damnatio memoriae. Consider the following account from The Republican Chronicle of Guaniguanico:

We burn the histories of the old kings; it is an offering to the gods. Everything ever recorded in the age before the Revolution is reduced from the face of the Earth.

Books are powerful. They hold magic potency, and the priests say that all that is written always comes to pass. These books gloried the kings and their gods; we could not bear to see the Revolution fail and the kings and their gods and their injustices return. Thus we had to burn them all and break the spells within…

Only by destroying the books would the old kings be forgot, their Sweetness of the Quetzal erased from memory itself… And the people cannot long for a thing which they have long forgot.​

The sole state in the entire Caribbean which survived fourteenth-century revolution was the Kingdom of Maisi, the easternmost of Cuba’s seven polities. The Maisi kings of the fifteenth century alone were the direct descendants of Cuban rulers of the Age of Caciques. The kingdom’s social hierarchy also harkened back to the past. Unlike the other kingdoms and republics, which only had a single elite class called the Nobility (nitaino), Maisi had two elite levels, a higher class of nitaino Nobles and a “middle class” of lower nobility called the Rest of Them (naboria).

Unfortunately, the state archives of the kings of Maisi were destroyed during Hernán Cortés’s campaigns in Cuba during the 1520s. With the breakdown of traditional Cuban society over the course of the sixteenth century, the Maisi Chronicles were never recompiled. The Spaniards eventually disassembled the kingdom.

One Spanish priest did have the curiosity to ask what remained of the Cuban nobility of their history. His work, The Relation of the Things in the Isle of Cuba¸ contains a brief summary of the Maisi founding legend. It goes that the kingdom was established by a famous merchant “in such ancient days that ships did not have sails.” This merchant, born in the Land of Faraway, won wondrous treasures and great adventures in the Mesoamerican mainland. He is said to have conquered even the “most magnificent Metropolis of Cizenca,” apparently the Maya capital of Chichen Itza. He ruled Cizenca benevolently for seven years until his children began dying of a strange illness. The priests informed him that the gods of the Maya had punished him for sins committed during his conquest of the city. The merchant-king despaired and fled the land, arriving in Maisi, where he married the local queen, subjugated nearby chiefdoms, and became the founder of the Kingdom of Maisi.

We, then, have no textual information of any sort about the Yucayan Archipelago prior to the fourteenth century, whether from Haiti, Cuba, or Jamaica. No more than a single text is about this early period, and even that is written by a Spanish Christian friar centuries after the American events they purportedly describe. Few situations worse for the historian may be imagined…
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PRE-TAIGUANO CARIBBEAN CHAPTER. Entry 2: The Yucayan Archipelago in the late first millennium [features POD]
From A Short History of America

Meillacoid pottery shards

The final centuries of the first millennium C.E. brought two major changes upon the Yucayan Archipelago.

Most archaeology for most archaeologists, the adage goes, is digging for potsherds in endless plots of sand. There is some truth to this. Unlike stone, pottery is easy to work with, and unlike wood, pottery does not rot after a day in the rain. Really, just visit any museum with a good collection of antiquities; you cannot help but marvel at simply how many pots and cups and plates and jars fill the rows. No surprise that the most telltale archaeological traces of this period’s changes are, again, shifts in ceramic styles. Yucayan ceramic traditions have always been a potpourri of eclectic mixes. One of these mixes, emerging in the central valleys of Haiti in the mid-ninth century, was marked by an innovative cross-hatched pattern of parallel lines. In no way was this new type of pottery markedly superior to contemporaneous styles. Yet it would eventually subsume each of its competitors throughout the western Yucayan. Archaeologists call this unlikely victor the Meillacoid ceramic phase.

Meillacoid success owes less to the ceramics themselves and more to the people making and using them. There had been agriculture in the Archipelago for more than a thousand years when the new ceramics appeared – agriculture of a limited, slash-and-burn sort. The Meillacoid Revolution changed this equation. The type of agriculture preferred by Meillacoid potters was far more exerting, and far, far more productive.

Even a trainee in Yucayan archaeology can see that a significantly greater proportion of Meillacoid settlement sites are found in the island’s interior than is true for their precursors. The ancestors of the Meillacoid people had been fishermen first, farmers and hunters second. But their descendants lived off regular rows of raised earthen mounds three feet tall, each of them a little green hill covered with crops from top to bottom: manioc, sweet potato, and a bean named marunguey whose leaves and delectable pods the Yucayans still prize to this day. Mound farming was immensely more productive than fishing and hunting. Populations boomed.

Growth in social complexity accompanied this demographic transition. It is to the woe of every historian that it is impossible, completely and utterly impossible, for us to understand the worldview of the past. Still, we do our best and guess. From fifteenth- and sixteenth-century accounts of popular Yucayan belief, and from modern accounts of the Yucayans’ distant cousins who still roam the vastness of the Amazon, it appears that the Meillacoid people believed in a universal soul. “Soul” is perhaps a misnomer. It was the power in the wind that made the oceans turn to boiling water as the hurricane pulverized the earth. It was the power in the soil that nurtured the tiniest seed until it was the mightiest of trees. It was the power in the human heart that warmed the warrior’s veins and urged him on toward certain death. It was, as one historian says, “the vital force that compels action… the power to cause, to effect.”

The Meillacoid people called this force, the power to effect change, Zemi. The word meant “Sweetness.”

There is change everywhere. Zemi was everywhere. But some had more access to Zemi than others, especially through the aid of idols and effigies whose personified spirits – gods, some would say, though the Meillacoid people might not have agreed – incarnated the force of Zemi.

For thousands of years before the Meillacoid era, and for centuries after in many areas, Yucayan society centered on autonomous villages inhabited by a single extended family. Yet there were auguries of change. The family-village was starting to fissure into its constituent nuclear families. Some were richer, others poorer. Some were prestigious, others scorned. Some had Zemi, others none. Some ruled, others served.

The stage was set for the rise of chiefdoms, of kingdoms, of the Taiguano Empire.

This was merely the first change. The second was just as monumental, and what we know of it just as speculative.

Trace back the family line of anyone in the Yucayan in 1492, and of millions of people on the islands today, and you find South America. The very distant ancestors of the Yucayans lived in the deep stretches of the Amazon, reaping manioc and sweet potato in small clearings amid the eternal forests that keep watch over the world’s mightiest river and all its infinite tributaries, a river whose drainage area equals the entirety of the Australian continent. The forest is full of water, and it falls as rain and collects in the streams that become the rivers that eventually become the Amazon. But no matter how great the Amazon may be, it is a river still. You know there is land beyond.

Imagine what surprise the slightly-less-distant ancestors of the Yucayans must have felt as they migrated north out of Amazonia and saw the Atlantic Ocean for the very first time. Here was a river – or was it a lake? – that made you thirstier when you drank from it, a body of water that seemed to be infinitely wide and infinitely deep. The ocean bore more water, it must have seemed, than every raindrop ever fallen on the forest put together.

Yet the Yucayans’ ancestors did not stop at the ocean. They did not say, “This obstacle is too great for us; the fish can keep this undrinkable lake.” They found that river canoes floated on salt water just as well as on fresh, and the peoples of the forest were soon out on the sea. One by one, new islands were found – new homes for living, new bases for exploring. This did not happen just once, of course. There were multiple migrations from South and Central America to the isles, and perhaps back again from the isles to the mainland. Natives and newcomers fought and made peace, loved and mixed. It was from this eclectic background that the Meillacoid tradition was born.

The Meillacoid people remained great explorers. They had nothing but the canoe and the oar, not even sails. They made up for it with sheer grit. Zemi, we might say. They crossed the stormy straits to Jamaica and Cuba in mere decades; we find Meillacoid potsherds dated to the ninth century in both islands. Once they were established in western Cuba, the Yucayans made the final leap. They crossed the two hundred kilometers of turbulent ocean west of the island and reached the land of the Maya. The year was around 900 C.E.

After a sojourn of millennia, the Yucayans returned to the mainland.

We know very little about how the first interactions between Maya and Yucayan would have gone. Material evidence for them is extremely sparse – a Cuban spatula in some long-dead Maya’s grave, little bits of beeswax when only the Maya kept bees – until around 1000 C.E., when Mesoamerican artefacts become common in most elite Cuban graves, followed by those in Jamaica and Haiti. Again, we do our best and guess.

Mural from Chichen Itza, portraying the Sun-King (left) speaking to a subordinate (right)

The tenth-century hegemon of Maya country was the city-kingdom of Chichen Itza. The paramount monarch of the city appears to have been associated with the Sun. This Sun-King was advised by a high priest, dressed in jade robes that made his every movement look like the slithering of the Serpent God, and he was at the head of the thousands of soldiers whose ranks filled the city’s many colonnaded halls.

To Chichen Itza’s bejeweled Sun-King and his thousands of jaguar-warriors, the first naked and bedraggled Yucayans to reach his shores must have seemed like the worst of savages. Neither the king, nor the naked Yucayan sailors who he perhaps greeted with condescension, could have known that this moment was to be among the most important in American history…
Entry 2-1: Discussion of Entry 2 from an OTL historical perspective
We now begin the timeline proper. The POD’s already been introduced. It’s this. What if, beginning in the tenth century C.E., the native peoples of the Caribbean, now known as the Taino (historians increasingly shy away from using that word, but that’s a topic for another day), entered into sustained contact with the Maya kingdoms of the mainland?

It’s likely that there was some sort of contact between the Maya and the Caribbean IOTL, but we still have no firm evidence. The best we have is that some Maya axes made of Guatemala jade have been discovered in the Caribbean, and that the Taino OTL played a ball game which resembles the Maya one. Archaeologist David Pendergast claims that he has discovered a Taino vomit ladle (a spoon used in Taino religion to make the worshipper vomit, so the Zemi effigies could see that he had “nothing bad inside”) in a Classic Maya tomb, but this seems impossible to me. Vomit ladles are characteristic of the Chicoid ceramic phase, which began circa 1200 C.E., by which the Classic Maya had long since disappeared. Columbus mentions beeswax in Cuba, even though the Taino did not keep bees. Historians have speculated that this was Maya wax as early as the sixteenth century. But then, Columbus thought Cuban villages were akin to Moorish war camps, so his testimony isn’t necessarily reliable.

ITTL, things turn out differently.

So far, the timeline has mostly been grounded in historical reality. Only a few cosmetic changes so far, like the consistent use of “Yucayan” instead of “Caribbean,” if you noticed. Even toponyms like “Amazon” are left unchanged, even though the river was named after indigenous female warriors encountered by a conquistador who came west from Peru. Perhaps IATL, the first European name for the world’s greatest river – Mar Dulce, the Freshwater Sea – is retained. But that would be needlessly confusing for an entry that’s mostly historical.

Many of the ancestors of TTL’s Yucayans and OTL’s Taino did come from rainforest South America. All the major languages spoken in the Archipelago in 1492 belonged to the Arawakan language family, whose original homeland is believed to have been the rainforests of either the Orinoco (a Venezuelan river with the fourth most water flow in the world) or the Amazon River Basin. An Orinoco origin for the Arawakan languages is usually considered the more archaeologically supported, but I chose to use the Amazon theory here just since it’s so much more convenient to write. It helps that I don’t actually know very much at all about the Orinoco. In any case, the Arawakan languages that real Taino and fictional Yucayans all speak are clearly not native to the Caribbean.

For a good introduction to Arawakan historical linguistics, I suggest chapter 7, “The Arawakan Matrix,” in Cambridge University Press’s recent (2014) work The Native Languages of South America: Origins, Development, Typology.

The late first millennium really did see significant change in Caribbean society, and they are indeed associated with the emergence of the Meillacoid pottery tradition. The Meillacoid culture – whose telltale pottery style is first found in north-central Hispaniola and dated to the early ninth century – is credited with the invention of the Taino form of agriculture (called conuco), featuring rows of earthen mounds two to three feet tall and about three meters wide. As mentioned in the timeline entry, the mounds were planted with carbohydrate crops like manioc, sweet potato, and a bean called marunguey. (Maize, the quintessential American crop, was an elite food IOTL and, at this early point, IATL as well.) Conuco agriculture was more productive than the limited farming that pre-Meillacoid peoples did, and this must have contributed to the tradition’s quick spread. Meillacoid settlements have been found in Cuba and Jamaica within the ninth century.

Early Meillacoid society was fairly egalitarian as far as we can tell. Columbus would encounter powerful paramount chiefs ruling over tens of thousands when he sailed in in 1492, but there is no evidence of supra-village political organization in the ninth century. The village itself was very probably (conceived as) an extended family, at least based on archaeological analyses of cemetery layout. The entry’s discussion on increasing social complexity in the early Meillacoid era doesn’t skew that closely to reality.

But the corporate village was beginning to collapse in some parts of the Caribbean. The best example of this is the precocious social development of Puerto Rico, which TTL will consistently refer to by its native name of Borinquen. Puerto Rico is not associated with the Meillacoid tradition, but it does see the rise of a new pottery tradition (Late Ostionan/Elenan) at around the same time. Here’s a simple chart (from Curet and Oliver 1998, “Mortuary Practices, Social Development, and Ideology in Precolumbian Puerto Rico”):

Up to Period IIIa (~900 C.E.), the dead were all buried together in the central village plaza, with little evidence of funerary stratification (e.g. some graves with markedly more burial goods). Beginning in Period IIIb, the village plaza begins to be divided into stone-marked precincts. A major feature of Period IIIa plazas was that they were almost completely open; Period IIIb plazas tend to have prominent petroglyphs representing the potency of the chiefly lineage. The dead are no longer buried with their neighbors, but in private burial places, often under the houses where their living descendants dwell. Although it’s hard to tell from the limited archaeological data, sixteenth-century European accounts tell us that Puerto Rican chiefs were given lavish burials far beyond what their subjects could ever dream of, and that some chiefs received fealty from multiple villages. The chiefdom society had emerged.

There are lots of books about Caribbean archaeology out there, and I really do not have the credentials to say which is best. I’ll just tell you the three or four books I’ve relied most on (even if I can’t understand huge tracts of it, not being an archaeologist myself): The Caribbean before Columbus (Keegan and Hofman 2017, Oxford), The Oxford Handbook of Caribbean Archaeology (Keegan, Hofman and Ramos 2013, Oxford), The Archaeology of the Caribbean (Wilson 2007, Cambridge), and Myths and Realities of Caribbean History (Reid 2009, Alabama).

Our knowledge of Taino cosmology and religion is sparse. My discussion of zemi in the TL entry as an almost qi-like force is based on Jose R. Oliver’s discussion in Caciques and Cemí Idols: The Web Spun by Taíno Rulers between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico (2009, Alabama), but even Oliver has to draw on anthropological and linguistic, rather than directly historical, evidence to argue that zemi was more a metaphysical force than the personified deities as the Spaniards understood it. Specifically, natives of the South American rainforest, the Taino’s closest cultural cousins to not be exterminated by the Spaniards, tend to believe in a cosmic spiritual unity. Cognates of the Taino word zemi in surviving Arawakan languages also often mean “sweetness” in addition to having religious connotations (Lokono, a close relative of Taino still spoken today in the Guianas, has seme “sweet” and semičiči “shaman; doctor”). Still, it’s a bit shaky ground from what I’ve seen. I nonetheless draw on Oliver’s thesis because it suits my timeline better.

Finally, a word on Chichen Itza. Chichen is an impressive city for sure, but we know almost nothing about how the politics of the city actually operated. My talk of Sun-Kings in the timeline entry is from Baudez and Latsanopoulos’s 2010 article in the Ancient Mesoamerica journal, “Political Structure, Military Training, and Ideology in Chichen Itza.” If you actually read their article, you realize that almost the entire evidence for the Chichen political structure comes from iconography-based speculation. Virtually no reliable written sources have survived the depredations of time and the Spaniards. So what Baudez and Latsanopoulos do is identify common motifs and figures in the city’s frescoes and murals and try to analyze what they could mean. They’re fully aware that their method leaves room for controversy. In that very article, they admit that the person they think is a “jade-skirted high priest” has also been analyzed as “an elite individual, possibly a ruler”; “Mother Earth”; “the sacrificed maize god”; “two aspects of Venus or the Milky Way”; “a goddess associated with water and fertility”; and finally, one of two hypothetical kings of Chichen Itza.

Still, Baudez and Latsanopoulos are the best we’ve got. It’s one of the hard and fun things about writing alternate history set in the Pre-Columbian Americas: we know so damn little.
Wouldn't the Yucayans' existence spur the development of Port cities across the Brazilian coast?
Not necessarily. We often underestimate how huge equatorial distances actually are. For convenience's sake, I've chosen the location of Cocopan, the Taiguano capital, to be what is IOTL the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. The actual 1492 Taino political center in the area was more inland, but then, the Taiguano are more ocean-minded than their real-life counterparts ever were.

The coastal route from Port-au-Prince to the nearest stretch of Brazilian coast is around 4,100 kilometers long. This is about as far as the distance between London and western Canada. Or, if we're talking about coast, 4,100 kilometers' worth of coastline is enough to go from Portugal to Senegal. These are not trifling distances that we're dealing with.

Plus, note how the map does not show Taiguano territory as extending much into the Lesser Antilles (the little north-south chain of islands that connect Puerto Rico to South America). There's a reason for this...

I look at your map and see a interesting proximity to OTL's Florida Keys.
Certainly. What do you think this part from the OP might be referring to?

The Military Governor of the Cicayans led annual expeditions against the Caniba who lived in the big peninsula to the north.
I've got tests coming up, so the timeline will be on temporary hiatus until the second week of July. I'll come back, promise.

If I can be honest, it is a little discouraging to get so little feedback (though I do recognize that the timeline hasn't really hit critical mass yet). I'd actually prefer critical viewpoints since I'm looking to improve my writing -- and knowledge of the Pre-Columbian Americas -- in the course of writing this, but even positive feedback is better than silence. This won't mean that the timeline will be discontinued any time soon (I write alternative history primarily for my own enjoyment, and I'd be writing something like this anyways even if this forum didn't exist), but I'd be lying if I said I didn't care at all.

Anyways, thanks to everyone who's kept after this timeline so far!
I've got tests coming up, so the timeline will be on temporary hiatus until the second week of July. I'll come back, promise.

If I can be honest, it is a little discouraging to get so little feedback (though I do recognize that the timeline hasn't really hit critical mass yet). I'd actually prefer critical viewpoints since I'm looking to improve my writing -- and knowledge of the Pre-Columbian Americas -- in the course of writing this, but even positive feedback is better than silence. This won't mean that the timeline will be discontinued any time soon (I write alternative history primarily for my own enjoyment, and I'd be writing something like this anyways even if this forum didn't exist), but I'd be lying if I said I didn't care at all.

Anyways, thanks to everyone who's kept after this timeline so far!
I can totally empathise; I feel / felt the same way, too, especially when writing TLs that require a lot of work because things aren't already neatly summed up in easily accessible textbooks. But that's also the reason why readers tend to just hit "like" and not comment (like me on this thread, too): When you don't really know anything about the time and space in question (like me about pre-Columbian Caribbean America), then you don't even know what to say, other than: I'm following this, I find it highly interesting, entertaining and educating. I can absolutely understand that exams are more important, and I'll gladly read more of it when you return to the TL. I love pre-Columbian America TLs, and I find what you've said about the "age of caciques" from various perspectives an interesting portrayal. It does make one curious where exactly you're going to take this, since evidently Europe and its colonization of Northern America still roughly occurs, if I got things right?
Entry 3: Trade in Isla Cerritos, early eleventh century C.E.
Isla Cerritos, main trading port of Chichen Itza, early eleventh century C.E.

“My Lord, the People of the Ocean come again.”

“No harm in it. Barbarians are always welcome, whether by land or by sea. They always come with goods in hand, and they never pose a threat to the realm. I fear a single Toltec four hundred times more than eight thousand of these naked wretches from the sea.” The merchant-prince smiles thinly. “The People of the Ocean have no obsidian, no houses of stone, no kings. What can they do? Beat us to death with their oars half with rot?”

“To be born in this land of turkey and deer, of cities as Chichen Itza and islands as Cerritos – it is a most magnificent thing, My Lord.”

“The barbarians… I pity them all. But what do they bring this time? And how many?”

“Same as the company that came three months ago, My Lord.”

“Enumerate them.”

“Gold and guanin [a gold-silver-copper alloy], My Lord, all in one canoe. All well-wrought, all of a most marvelous make, all according to their fancies – little gold men, little gold brooches, little gold brooches shaped like little gold men… We have not counted how many, there were too many to count. The barbarians say that the gold comes from beyond the Lenca lands [the Lenca were the Maya’s southern neighbors], in places where we Maya have never trod foot.”


“None, My Lord. We asked the barbarian captain for them. He says that their country has lost some war with some other barbarian and lost all their slaves, and many other people besides.”


“What is My Lord’s response to them?”

“For gold and guanin? Oh, I don’t know. I would have bought any slaves if they had them, but gold… Well, it will surely impress those in Chichen Itza. It must first be seen how much salt the barbarians are willing to take.

“But enough of this petty walk with petty men. I am not the only lord in Cerritos, even if you servants serve me well enough that sometimes I feel as if I were. Go and tell the other lords to convene tomorrow. We’ll set the bottom line for the prices there.”

“I am your servant and I shall obey, My Lord.”​

* * *

Part of the coastline of Isla Cerritos today. The long blue line parallel to the shore is the remains of the island's ancient Maya seawall, which once protected the island's harbor from the power of the tides. Sea levels have risen and walls eroded since the Maya past, and the seawall is now underwater. Image from Andrews's 1988 National Geographic article "Isla Cerritos: An Itza Trading Port on the North Coast of Yucatan, Mexico."

* * *

Isla Cerritos, main trading port of Chichen Itza, early eleventh century C.E.

“My chief, we’ve arrived. We’re back in the Country of Stone Houses.”

“Good. We need the salt. Honey, too, if you can get them. Probably not this year, though – we’ve got no slaves to sell.”

The company almost frowns. The chief sees this and says hastily, “Salt is good enough. Who needs the honey? Guava is better anyways.” The crew agrees loudly. They need to, or at least pretend to. There’s no use crying over spilled palm fruit. Certainly not when you’re trying to do business in a strange land – a land of strange houses occupied by strange people, with their strange propensity to strangely cover up their bodies with strange-looking pieces of cloth in order to (apparently) make themselves hotter in the tropical heat. Such strangeness demands confidence, whether real or mocked.

“What do we have to sell for the salt?” Someone asks.

“Gold and guanin. Brooches, pendants, bracelets, rings. We bought them from beyond the seas.” There is no smelting on the islands, and all guanin are imports.

Then there is nothing to say. No talk of slaves, by anyone anywhere – some things are better left unsaid.

The crew looks inland. The monuments of Cerritos loom over the swaying of the trees – vast temples for ghastly gods. Some of the crew thinks they might just see the palatial residents of the merchant-nobles here, or the long rows of storehouses stocked with trading goods from end to end. The chief too wonders if he can hear the sounds of the island marketplace and its outlandish men from all corners of the Country of Stone Houses, each with his own exotic merchandise. Copper, obsidian, cacao, pottery, chert, basalt, turquoise, and the gods know what else. There is excitement in Cerritos. There always is where people gather.

“I wonder what it’s like to live here,” some boy asks.

“Terrible,” the chief says, in the voice that makes it hard to doubt.

“But why?”

“There are things here you would not like.”

“What things?”

“The People of the Stone Houses worship… things. I’m not sure if they’re demons, even. I’ve been to their temples, seen their rituals. On all the murals they have these things, hideous with all their masks and armor. And they offer blood sacrifices. They tear out the beating heart from living men for the sake of these… gods. Sometimes they scream.

“What else? The people of this country live under the total subjugation of their chiefs. Think back on how we live – we have our chiefly lines and our peasant lines, we have those who command and those who obey, but everyone still knows each other well enough. I am a chief, but you can tell me when I am wrong and I will listen.

“Not so here. You’re young. I am old, and I’ve been in this island more times than I could count on my two hands. The chiefs here do not believe that their people are human. They believe their subjects are dogs, no, even lower than that. The people here are like the rubber in our ball games, and their chiefs are the players. The chiefs throw the people about as they will, hit them and abuse them like we hit and bounce our balls, and the people don’t dare speak up. They’re mute as a ball, each and every one.

“I pity them all.”

A murmur of assent – someone said “I’m glad I’m not a rubber ball” and everyone laughed – then silence again.

“What about the prices?”

Back to business.

“It must first be seen how much gold and guanin their chiefs are willing to take. But – no, let’s set the bottom line for the prices now.”

“We do what you say, my chief.”​


A brief narrative about the Maya-Yucayan trade of the early eleventh century A.D.

The island of Isla Cerritos was indeed Chichen Itza’s principal port of trade. Results from archaeological studies of Cerritos are striking: remnants of terraces, docks, and piers dot the entire coastline of the island, while a seawall a few hundred meters long must once have halted the tide and allowed for a calm harbor for fragile Mesoamerican canoes to enter. Studies on the origin of artifacts from Cerritos show the wide-ranging span of Maya trading networks: ceramics from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, obsidian from Central Mexico and the Guatemalan hills, turquoise from northern Mexico or even what is now the American Southwest, basalt from Veracruz and Belize, even a gold frog from Costa Rica or Panama. Indeed, 82% of Cerritos’s 109 obsidian artefacts come from faraway deposits in Pachuca and Ucareo, more than a thousand kilometers to the west as the crow flies.

Chichen itself is an inland city, but well-built roads traversed the hundred kilometers linking the city to Cerritos, distances that sturdy Maya porters could cross in just three days. Cerritos appears to have been entirely dependent on Chichen. The entire island is the size of five soccer fields put together and cannot sustain an independent population. In fact, “excavations indicate that Isla Cerritos is largely artificial, as the remains of past construction are found everywhere at considerable depth” – an artificial island that the Chichen elite created for trade, testimony to Maya ingenuity. It was depopulated almost immediately, and apparently violently, following Chichen’s destruction as a political center in around 1200 A.D. It’s still uninhabited.

Incidentally, and unfortunately for me as an author trying to write about Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, this is why nobody knows its Maya name and everyone calls it by the most un-Maya name of Isla Cerritos.

(Important research has been done on Cerritos in the 1980s. Consider reading Anthony Andrews’s 1988 article “Isla Cerritos: An Itza Trading Port on the North Coast of Yucatan, Mexico.”)

It’s no surprise that Chichen Itza would have had a specialized trading port. There is some evidence that the Itza, the people who founded the city and dominated the Yucatan for centuries, were originally merchants themselves. Chichen Itza was a major importer of various marine products, chert, basalt, jade, turquoise, gold, and probably a great quantity of perishable products. In return, it exported cotton, honey, and salt – especially salt. Chichen had a monopoly over the rich salt fields of the Yucatan and likely exported more than 4,000 tons annually.

ITTL, the Yucayans would have easily tapped into this vibrant maritime trading network, linking Cuba and the rest of the Antilles into the world of Mesoamerican commerce, perhaps by offering guanin, a gold-silver-copper alloy made in Columbia (the Taino IOTL had no smelting technology and could not produce alloys), in exchange for Maya salt. And that’s what this story is trying to illustrate.

In this short episode, we have the Maya and the Yucayans making a clear distinction between their political systems. That’ll bring us to the topic of the next entry…
awesome timeline so far enjoying thinking of what will happen to the poor buggers when the plague comes to town! One thought through more inter-island trade the disease pool would be larger and it is likely that the immune system of the islanders might be slightly stronger than OTL along with existent social structures ala Mexico OTL post Spanish conquest their might be significant mestizo populations unlike now where there is a small genetic remainder in the African descended populations of the native Tanio islanders. Nice!


This is good stuff OP. Makes me inspired along with another stranger thing to write my own little North American TL
I'm surprised nobody has done a TL on the Mapuche, who literally went out kicking and screaming as far late as the 19th century.
If you mean in terms of starting major urban civilization, the terrain of the Southern Cone generally and the Pampas specifically makes that rather difficult. It lends itself to settled society out of nothing about as well as the Eurasian Steppe.
If you mean in terms of starting major urban civilization, the terrain of the Southern Cone generally and the Pampas specifically makes that rather difficult. It lends itself to settled society out of nothing about as well as the Eurasian Steppe.
cold geographic determinism does not make interesting tls tho.