Maya/Mesoamerican Colonization of the Caribbean

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Cuāuhtemōc, Jan 14, 2017.

  1. Skallagrim Not the one from YouTube. Different other fellow.

    Feb 5, 2014
    The POD that @Jon the Numbat suggests seems perfect to me:

    A POD that early allows for the trade network to be built up over time. And just as he says: while it will likely have effects on the factors that in OTL caused the collapse, it would probably not prevent it altogether. In fact... here's a thought: the increased trade and wealth could conceivably lead to a population boost at some point, which would in itself cause certain pressures. That might lead to an alternate situation, much like OTL's collapse, but with a more densely populated maya heartland. The dense population would be relevant for the issue raised by @Achaemenid Rome:

    An alt-collapse where population pressure is clearly more of a key factor would be a realistic impetus for suddenly increasing migration to the Caribbean islands in the eighth and ninth centuries.

    At this point, as has been noted, the Maya did not yet have sails. On the other hand, they did impressively well with their oar-powered canoes in OTL, and so did the Taino. As you observed: the Taino originated from South America and managed to colonise most of the Caribbean within a few centuries. All this makes it very plausible for the “Maya migration” to eventually result in a Caribbean-spanning trade civilisation.

    By the year 900, based on an earlier Maya presence and highly lucrative existing trade contacts, I would expect a well-established Maya presence on Cuba etc. – with all the cultural influence that would entail.

    If, as @Jon the Numbat postulates, this “Carribean release valve” for excess population actually works to migitate the collapse to some extent, we are not so much looking at a migration an sich, and more at an organic expansion of Maya influence. And also, perhaps, a shift in the centre of power. Gradually, the Caribbean, rather than Yucatan, might become the centre of this culture’s power. Instead of the Carribean culture eventually (re)conquering Yucatan (as I initially described), we might see a situation where the more hybrid culture of the islands becomes ever more dominant, until the old homeland is just swept into its orbit entirely.

    As the postclassical era dawns (albeit very different from the one of OTL!), we’d see this island culture gradually expanding, using outrigger canoes just as @Jon the Numbat describes. Island-hopping isn’t that difficult, and the Taino were already a rather nautical people who used their own canoes for island trade. Basically, you could see the Maya island culture expanding exactly in the opposite direction from the one the Taino did: tracing the Caribbean arc from Cuba to Trinidad. From there, they could go along the northern coast of South America.

    (@Cuāuhtemōc, you noted that sails were used by South Americans. Would that include any South Americans along that coast? If so, that would be a handy way for the island Maya to pick up sail-making. If not, they could still either come into contact with sailing peoples via later expeditions along the South American coast, or they could eventually develop them independently, of course. But if anyone along thr northern coast of South America was using sails at the time, that would be a great boon, simply because it would vastly increase the load that Maya ships could carry, and would also make them less dependent on island-hopping for getting around the region.)

    As for later developments, I for one fully agree with this:

    Especially combined with sails (if that’s in the cards), those catamarans could be a fun and plausible way to really give this trade empire an edge over everyone else in the region.

    Of course, an island-based trade empire may very well not be an "empire" as we'd describe it, but rather a culturally and economically interlinked association of mostly autonomous city-states. In some cases, some of those city states might enjoy hegemony over lesser city-states, colonies, and inland chiefdoms (much like "princely states"). There might be a number of major cities that dominate the entire region and demand loyalty from all others in some form or another. Who knows? But I certainly don't expect it to be a rigidly hierarchical empire with one clear capital that calls all the shots.

    Nor do I think it will be an example of a purely "Maya" cultural area. It will probably gradually change as more cultures are absorbed into its sphere. The exact culture, beyond the basic tenets, may vary from place to place, but a sense of fundamental common identity and mutual association could realistically be present. (Much like the Greek sense of a common Hellenic identity, even at times when various poleis were most opposed to each other.) Again, Jon is just right on target, as far as I can judge such things:

    ...and does that sound awesome, or what?

    As others have noted, the trade-based origins (and lasting strengths) of such a culture would probably lend a more prominent role to the merchant class, and something of an evolution away from theocratic tendencies. This would serve to strengthen the culture, and broaden its various perspectives.

    Another factor that would really help is (as has also been mentiond) more diversified and sustainable agriculture and/or aquaculture. The climates and soil types of the various islands and other regions that might potentially be settled can realistically be treated as the cause of a move away from slash and burn monoculture, and towards other alternatives. Ultimately, that would make the whole culture and trade network far less vulnerable to drought, climatological changes, and certain crop blights. (It may seem a bit over-the-top to focus on everything and anything that could potentially strengthen this culture, but once the Europeans show up, they’re just going to need every advantage they can get.)

    As for the potential extent of this cultural sphere / trade network... given everything outlined so far, it’s not unrealistic to consider settlement of basically all Caribbean islands, Yucatan, various regions along the coast adjacent to Yuatan, and various colonies all along the Caribbean coast in North America, Mesoamerica and South America. Florida seems to have been in trade contct with the Caribbean anyway, slo that seems like a good candidate for relatively early (and perhaps therefore relatively dense settlement).

    And any city-state at or near the the mouth of the Mississippi river is just poised to be a nexus for lucrative trade between our intrepid merchant culture and the Mississippian culture. (If you want to get really crazy — and by that I mean crazy awesome — you could have the interaction between these two cultural spheres / trade networks develop to such an extent that they really learn from each other. Particularly, if the Caribbean Maya culture indeed develops useful ideas on agricultural diversification etc., the Mississippians might adopt some of those ideas... which could then migitate the Mississippian decline of OTL. This would affect the ultimate fate of the native American peoples to an even greater extent, and I would gladly read such a TL.)

    Well. That turned into an extended rant, didn't it? Sorry about that. Please take it as a sign of my great interest in this scenario and its many possible implications. Needless to say, if this ever gets turned into a timeline, you'll find an avid reader in me. :)
  2. John7755 يوحنا Lightweight Faqih

    Dec 30, 2014
    @Skallagrim A major question is what area would be best placed for a city at its base? Perhaps on the site of modern Vieux Carré New Orleans? However, I am not too aware how far down the Mississippian culture spread southward and how well the Maya would navigate up the river. If the Maya do navigate it, they would be required to start settlements in between, perhaps at Natchez or the like.

    (I think I may be wanking the Maya however.)

    In all honesty, I wouldn't be surprised if such a city at the base of the Mississippi becomes the largest city in the Americas in all honesty. It is a supremely good position as long as you can build efficient canals and safeguard it from war.

    I am not too educated however on either of these topics; simply speculating.
  3. Skallagrim Not the one from YouTube. Different other fellow.

    Feb 5, 2014
    If we assume that the Maya expansion/migration is largely finished by 900 AD, and any settlement of the Mississippi River delta won't take place for say another hundred years, then the present shape/course of the river/delta should be there. (Essentially, the St. Bernard lobe of the delta was there, and the Plaquemines lobe was still forming. That's according to what I've read, at least-- I'm not an expert on this, either.) This means that the site you mentioned (and it's general surroundings) are indeed a logical site. It's terra firma by that point; any closer to the sea and you'll soon be in a bayou, and that's no place for a settlement.

    I'm fairly sure the Maya can navigate a river. I'm not sure they'd want to. By 1000 AD, the Mississipians aren't this far south yet. The Medora Site is believed to have been settled around 1300 AD by the Plaquemine culture, which is part of the Mississippian culture group. As far as I understand it, they moved in from the north, and at some point after 1300, extended their influence all the way to the gulf coast. Mississippians had reached the site of Natchez roughly a century before, establishing complexes such as Emerald Mound and Grand Village. So I'd say contact between the Plaquemine culture and the Carribean Maya becomes realistic as of 1200 or so. Possibly, once contact is established, the Maya establish a trade post at the location of OTL's Medora Site?

    In the meantime, the delta is just a good place to put a settlement in any case, because the extremely fertile soil in the region just makes agriculture worthwhile. It won't be a major city early on, but once the Plaquemine culture expands southward and contact is established, I expect interesting developments.

    For a growing city at the location of New Orleans, water management will of course be a major issue. I don't know how good the Maya were with canals, levies etc.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2017
  4. John7755 يوحنا Lightweight Faqih

    Dec 30, 2014
    @Skallagrim Well, the site of Vieux Carré at least in 1718, had a hill on its centre which was the reason for the cities founding. It was seen by Bienville as the most resistant place, on the Mississippi delta, to hurricanes. Sites such as Bilocci and LaBalize further south and directly on the coast were not feasible due to yearly hurricanes, all of which Nouvelle Orléans survived minimally and typically such storms in the actual site of what would historically be Île d'Orléans was much more mild than the now common conception created by the relatively recent Hurricane Betsy and infamous Hurricane Katrina.

    The issue however would be flooding. Which I am not sure the Maya know how to combat. Other méso-américain cultures like the Aztec would have the skill to build canals and levees for this situation, however we are not dealing with the Aztecs. So a question would be how did the Aztecs learn their practice in water and how to replicate that amongst the Maya.
  5. Jon the Numbat Well-Known Member

    Jun 15, 2016
    Neotropic Florida
    Hmm... maybe with knowledge that there's still land way up the west coast (Beringia) some geographic myths could arise. One possible line of reasoning these potential explorers could have is that the majority of earth's land runs on a meridian perpendicular to the equator. Essentially an inversion of 'Terra Australis' where instead of imagining a large land mass to balance the north there's instead another north south continent(s) at the antipopde, reached by circumpolar land bridges and island chains.

    Very interesting ideas here Skallagrim. You mentioned the boon that comes with the ability to sail into the open. I mostly imagined coastal plying societies, but if their skills develop to the point where they can confidently voyage far out of sight of land it could touch off rapid changes. Not only would this solidify the interactions between the Greater Antilles and Mesoamerica completely but it would also bring the harder to reach peripheral areas fully into their orbit. It wouldn't be surprising to find the gulf between Louisiana, Florida, and Texas peppered with boom towns governed by chiefs whose wealth comes from the exotic goods of the south.

    The central Maya Area could also get a new lease on life via resurgent ports in Belize. Sailors from Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico, could travel straight to the Maya heartland with all the sharing of ideas that this entails. The central cities along with ones around southeastern frontier within Honduras could also look to the coast and establish tributary relations with emerging entrepots.

    This might be accomplished sooner if sails develop independently in the Caribbean. The natives of its rim did invent the hammock after all. Cotton was traded to make nets since the days of Norte Chico. Our early fishing people could use cotton nets as well with their initial expansion.

    A Taino or Maya fisherman might get the inspiration for sails while being blown around in a hammock on a windy day. Or perhaps while throwing a net that was woven a little too tightly his outrigger is moved; he later uses the stability of the canoe to attach a post and runs a test or two. Our early sailors would be able to use plants like sisal (Agave sisalana), cotton, fique/maguey (Furcraea andina, when they reach Colombia) as supporting fibres or ropes. Attempts at mass producing them might cause some ecological issues though.

    Vieux Carré sounds like a good location to me. If the sea lanes loop around the gulf and if sailors could travel across open sea (per mentioned above), delta dwellers would have direct contact with central Mexico. With potential goods like textiles, chocolate, chilies, exotic stones and feathers the trip would be well worth the cost. Through this route canal building techniques could be shared. Since the mound builders have been creating monumental structures for millennia, I think canals would be well within their capabilities. The volume of items transported over time would be exponential compared to the route via South Western middlemen and the delta peoples would carry much more clout with their neighbors. Wealth from the Mesoamerican-Caribbean trade could allow more centralized command structures to form and a greater opportunity to manage these works.
  6. John7755 يوحنا Lightweight Faqih

    Dec 30, 2014
    @Jon the Numbat It would seem that if a large enough Maya populace settles in the Caribbean, and Mesoamerica remains as is, this site at Vieux Carré could, imo, reach very, very large sizes.

    Also, since the Maya are now creating a more maritime culture around the Caribbean, could it be possible that more than 2 distinct cultures are created essentially form this? Maya would differ in forms than those who live in the base of Louisiane as they would from those now populating the Caribbean. Seems plausible. This could also, have the effect of Mayan ships occasionally washing up on the shores of West Africa or Brazil.
  7. Jon the Numbat Well-Known Member

    Jun 15, 2016
    Neotropic Florida
    Absolutely. I think that it could become among the largest of Mississippian sites within a century with such high valued goods attracting traders from across the basin, along with new agricultural techniques and diversifying economic sectors.

    Most definitely. The Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico could, in this world, be considered distinct cultural regions equivalent to Mesoamerica or the Andes. Within the sphere are unique cultural expressions based on the contributions of differing peoples. The cultural groups would also overlap considerably. Just as one would expect Pochteca in the Maya area so too we could find Cuban-Maya traders in Florida and Louisiana or Chibchan communities in Jamaica. There would no doubt be an ebb & flow going both ways.
    The Maya diaspora might resemble the relationship between the Maya heartland and the Huastec but on a maritime scale. Come to think of it, the Huastec might be the principle Mesoamerican culture to influence the Mississippi as they would be one of the closest destinations for Louisiana traders. It could be through this route that explicit Maya colonies would be founded. By then though they'll have to share space with the already established seafaring peoples of the Caribbean. It would be an interesting sight to have two distinct Maya descended cultures meeting at Vieux Carré from opposite paths.

    On sailing to Brazil, with open sailing being a thing, long distance expeditions along the coastline of the Americas could be attempted by voyagers of Maya origin. I'm thinking along the lines of say Hatshepsut's delegation to Punt or Hanno the navigator. Reaching Marajo at least would be a possibility and one could ride the current back to the Caribbean.

    The more fruitful route might be along South America's west coast. A mariner used to open sailing would welcome the urban centers of Ecuador, with their well established trade network and naval traditions up to lake Titicaca. Stopping by the Sican, Chimu, and Chincha cultures, the crew would bring back the most exotic textiles, smelted tools (the Chimu are known for their utilitarian bronze objects), hallucinogens, animals, and foods. Our navigator would return far more wealthy than when he left.
  8. John7755 يوحنا Lightweight Faqih

    Dec 30, 2014
    @Jon the Numbat

    Hmm, I wonder, I could see a slave trade frankly develop in this world in theses trade routes. Slaves brought from less developed tribes like the Houma and Wichita would be sold in the Vieux Carré site (we need to come up with a name, I feel so odd calling a Mayan site Vieux Carré hahhahahahah) and then funneled into the islands and into Mesoamerica, perhaps to be used as sacrifices for groups like the Aztec but mainly as labor. This would seem like a prime situation to see a rapid growth in slavery, that is areas and zones where farming and markets are advancing but the overall population is small, especially population of compatible cultures in the rural areas.
    Rob Roy and Krishna123 like this.
  9. Skallagrim Not the one from YouTube. Different other fellow.

    Feb 5, 2014
    That idea of an eventual expedition down the western coast of South America is very cool. Given the development/growth of the whole cultural sphere and trade network, I do think that this sort of thing won't really be undertaken until... well, until Colombus is nearly on the doorstep, basically. I've given it a bit of thought (because this whole scenario just can't seem to get out of my head), and written out a general timeframe. Hopefully, it can be of use to @Cuāuhtemōc.

    The overview below basically encompasses what has been discussed by the various contributors to this thread, and attempts to fit it into a realistic timeframe. Needless to say, I'm merely sorting it all out, and the ideas reproduced below include several that have been lifted near-verbatim from the relevant posts by @Jon the Numbat, @John7755 يوحنا and @Cuāuhtemōc.


    c. 400 AD — Outrigger canoes are developed in Muyil. (The POD.)

    c. 400 AD – c. 550 AD — The stability in rough waters of the outrigger canoe is valued for trade along the Caribbean coast. Other Maya city-states soon adopt this new craft. Eventually the canoes are made longer and parts are weaved between to carry greater loads. Fisherman communities from the coastal cities are able to travel further in their trips and carry more of their catch back, reaching Cuba by 550 AD, and from there on solidifying the trade link between Cuba and Yucatan.

    c. 550 AD – c. 750 AD — The places where the Maya fishermen visit most frequently become outposts for resupply, and later grow into trading towns. First trading with western Cuba alone, Maya trade posts later emerge all along the Cuban coast, on the Cayman Islands, on Jamaica and at the very west of Hispaniola. Farming communities are established in these emerging towns and they become a new destination and/or source for Maya trade goods.

    Eventually the trade becomes highly lucrative to those involved on either side. The trade brings new agricultural products and practices to the Maya heartland, which rapidly spread among the various city-states. Increased wealth and argicultural yield leads to a population boom. In addition, inreasing numbers of people in Yucatan begin to migrate from the cities further south to the northern coastal cities, which have profited most from the Caribbean trade connections. The traditional low-density urbanism of the Maya ends up having some considerable trouble absorbing these developments.

    c. 750 AD – c. 900 AD — Economic and social changes, combined with overpopulation (or rather: a population growth that could theoretically be supported, but cannot easily be absorbed by the existing social model) cause unrest and social problems among the Maya. Increasingly, people moving to the coastal trade cities find there is little place for them there. They move on, along the trade routes, and begin to settle in the trade towns of Cuba, Jamaica and Hispaniola. Later on, these migrants begin to diffuse across the coastal settlements of these islands. Some of the most prominent Maya settlements grow into full-blown cities.

    The increased Maya settlement causes demographic and cultural changes on the islands, which is paired with some social upheaval. Despite the inevitable tensions, many have profited from the trade, and continue to profit. Those who have benefitted most are also most closely allied to the Maya settlers. These are also the ones most open to Maya cultural influence, and - handily - the ones who have gained a useful upper hand on their neighbours through the wealth and the cultural innovations that the trade has brought them. Eventually, the migrating Maya simply tip the demographic balance, while also mixing with the native groups allied to them. Both sides adopt cultural practices from the other, and although the resulting culture is heavily dominated by Maya practices and conventions... it is no longer the exact same culture that had existed in Yucatan. (Notably, the trade-based origins and focus of this hybrid culture lends a more prominent role to the merchant class, and causes something of an evolution away from earlier theocratic tendencies.)

    c. 900 AD – c. 1100 AD — The Maya, though they rely entirely on oar-driven ships, spread their influence rapidly. As the Caribbean cities continue to grow, new settlements are founded on Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and on the southern and southwestern coasts of Florida (a region with which the Taino of Cuba already traded). The coastal regions are drawn into the trade network directly. Further inland, large chiefdoms begin to consolidate. These also profit from the trade and from cultural exchange, although they are far more independent from direct Maya influence.

    Besides actual establishment of trade posts and any real settlement, there are also more daring expeditions on a more ad hoc basis. Island-hopping isn’t that difficult, and the Taino were already a rather nautical people who used their own canoes for island trade. The emerging Maya island culture essentially expands its trade exactly in the opposite direction from the one the Taino did: tracing the Caribbean arc from Cuba towards Trinidad. (Beyond Puerto Rico, however, this is incidental trade, and not any kind of systematic settlement... yet.)

    An outlying settlement is established at the mouth of the Mississippi River somewhere in the middle of the 11th century, basically at the site of OTL’s Vieux Carré, New Orleans. While hardly a booming trade post at that early stage (the Mississippians are still too far north for any contact to take place), the rich soil of the great river’s delta makes for a highly successful agricultural settlement.

    Because the “Carribean release valve” for excess population has worked to migitate the social pressures in Yucatan, the old Maya heartland is stabilising again, and also profits from the trade. Another factor that plays a role in this stabilisation is the increasingly diversified and sustainable agriculture and aquaculture of the Maya polities. The climates and soil types of the various islands that are being settled have sparked a move away from slash and burn monoculture, and towards other alternatives. New crops and new techniques make the whole culture and the entire trade network far less vulnerable to drought, climatological changes, and certain crop blights. The cities of Yucatan also benefit from this. So much so, in fact, that the increased levels op population density become increasingly sustainable. Migration to the islands recedes somewhat (although trade remains booming), and ventures along the Mesoamerican coast begin to be launched instead.

    By 1100, the Maya are expanding from Yucatan towards the old Olmec heartland (which has been sparsely populated sinse the Olmec decline of the fourth century BC, and would in Otl remain so until after Spanish colonisation). The old Olmec sites, such as the one at La Venta, become inhabited again... by Maya settlers. On the other side of the Yucatan, some Maya trade posts are established along the Caribbean coast of OTL’s Honduras, while in the south, Mayan influence once again expands through OTL’s chiapas and Guatemala, all the way to the Pacific coast.

    Still, despite the flourishing of the old Maya heartland and the expansion of its influence... the economic centre of gravity of the whole trade network is gradually beginning to shift towards the Caribbean islands.

    c. 1100 AD – c. 1200 AD — The trade network of the Caribbean Maya gradually expands, as the pattern of trade posts being established and settlements growing around them progressively follows the arc of the lesser Antilles all the way to Trinidad. Ever more daring exploratory expeditions precede the actual settlement, eventually skirting west from Trinidad along the northern coast of South America, and tentatively going east from there as well.

    Maya explorers come across South Americans using sails on their boats, and are fascinated by this innovation. Trade-minded as they are, they do not fail to grasp the implications of using ships that do not rely on oars alone. Employing sails would vastly increase the load that Maya ships could carry, and would also make them less dependent on island-hopping for getting around the region. Sails are introduced to Maya ships by eager entrepeneurs around 1100 AD, marking a drastic development that will greatly change the possibilities of nautical trade. By 1200 AD, sails are near-ubiquitous within the Maya trade network.

    Also by that time, trade posts have been established along the less Antilles, and are beginning to pop up along the Caribbean coast of South America. At this point, sails are mostly still used for coastal plying, but sailing skills are rapidly developing. More daring traders already risk crossing the open sea. Soon, sailing will be so universally embraced that all traders will confidently voyage far out of sight of land.

    On the northern edges of the trade network, developments are no less stunning. First of all, various entrepots have been established along the Gulf Coast, more firmly linking the trade posts in Florida to the settlement at Vieux Carré. Besides that, trading posts are also being formed on Florida’s eastern coast. The northerneasternmost trade post, marking the very edge of the Caribbean Maya culture’s influence, is at the mouth of the Altamaha River, near the site of OTL’s Brunswick, Georgia.

    Finally, and most importantly, contact is established, around 1200 AD, between the Caribbean Maya culture and the Mississippian culture. Specifically, the Mississippian Plaquemine culture has migrated south, establishing complexes such as Emerald Mound and Grand Village at the site of OTL’s Natchez... and in exploring the region, they have made contact with the Maya settlement at Vieux Carré. Trade links are cautiously established, and a mutual understanding of non-hostility is reached. The Maya esablish a trade post, roughly at the location of OTL’s Medora Site.

    Whule all these exciting developments are underway, the cultural area of the Caribbean Maya people becomes more consolidated. The various chiefdoms are gradually integrated more fully into the trade network, although this takes a number of minor wars here and there. By 1200, the trade empire of the Maya is orderly and at peace. Of course, this trade empire is not really an "empire" at all, but rather a culturally and economically interlinked association of mostly autonomous city-states. In some cases, some of those city states enjoy hegemony over lesser city-states, colonies, and inland chiefdoms (ehich are now much like OTL’s "princely states" of the Raj). There are a number of major cities that tend to dominate their region, and demand loyalty from others in some form or another. But all in all, this is certainly not a rigidly hierarchical empire with one clear capital that calls all the shots, and there is a general understanding of peaceful interaction and free trade.

    Within this sprawling and still expanding trade network, the centre of power is now clearly shifting towards the Caribbean islands. The domanant cultural forms are no longer purely those of the Maya (as these once were). The culture has gradually changed as ever more cultures have been absorbed into its sphere. The exact culture, beyond the basic tenets, varies from place to place, but a sense of fundamental common identity and mutual association binds the entire trade network together. (Much like the Greek sense of a common Hellenic identity, even at times when various poleis were most opposed to each other.) The more hybrid culture of the islands has become ever more dominant, and by 1200 AD, the old homeland in Yucatan has mostly been swept into its orbit.

    c. 1200 AD – 1300 AD — The use of sails, and an increasing willingness to cross open water, kicks off rapid changes within the trade network. Not only does it solidify the interactions between the Antilles and Mesoamerica to an even greater extent than ever before, but it also brings the harder to reach peripheral areas fully into the network’s orbit. Traders and explorers, both from Trinidad and Yucatan, use sailing vessels to trace the Caribbean coastline of Mesoamerica and South America.

    Establishing entrepots on the coasts of OTL’s Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, they trade with the native inhabitants and pick up metallurgy techniques and other useful skills and items. Settlements in the region are already utilising ditches, causeways and terraces. The Diquis, Zenu, Tairona, Tierra Alta and an assortment of Panamanian and Colombian highland cultures are gradually drawn into the interaction sphere of the circum-Caribbean trade network.

    Sailors from Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles increasingly travel directly to Yucatan, instead of following the arc of the islands (and vice versa). At the same time, ships from the coastal ports of Central and South America ever more frequently cut directly across open water when they head for Cuba etc. — it is truly a new era for trade, and for culture. Ideas are exchanged ever more rapidly. One of the most interesting outcomes of this exchange is the development of catamarans at Panama and Northern Colombia. The inspiration comes from the rafts traditionally used there and in Equador. Their design is combined with the Maya outriggers, creating a vessel that allows traders ro maximise their cargo load. This has such obvious advantages that is rapidly becomes the standard vessel of the trade routes.

    At the northern outskirts, the settlement at Vieux Carré is blooming into a major city, while lesser boom towns pepper the Gulf coast from the site of OTL’s Galveston to Florida. The sea lanes now loop the Gulf, while sailors also travel across open sea. The delta dwellers, once living on the periphery, now have far more direct contact with the rest of the trade network. And so much the better. With trade goods like textiles, chocolate, chilies, exotic stones and feathers available to the Maya merchants, the trip to the mouth of the Mississippi is well worth the cost. The Mississippians to the north are eager to buy, to learn, to exchange goods and knowledge. The Plaquemine culture, growing immensely rich by being the middle man between the Maya and the other Mississippians, are eager to share their canal building techniques with the Maya settlers. This allows the booming city at Vieux Carré to become a masterpiece of water management, ensuring that its teeming masses keep their feet dry.

    Among the Mississippians, wealth derived from the Mesoamerican-Caribbean trade gradually allows more centralised command structures to form, along with a greater opportunity to manage infrastructural works. The same goes for the city at Vieux Carré. The two cultural spheres continue to learn from each other, and even adopt some of each other’s cultural tenets. Nobably, the mississippians adopt certain agricultural practices from their trade partners, which ultimately brings them a more versatile and stable supply of food.

    While not incredibly common, no Caribbean merchant would by this point be surpised to bring Mississippian emmisaries to Cuba, nor is it unheard of for Maya dignitaries to occasionally venture up the Mississippi— occasionally even as far north as Cahokia.

    c. 1300 AD – 1491 AD — By the 14th century, the Caribbean Maya culture has almost reached its greatest extent. It is a vast collection of thriving market centers, all across the Antilles, the Bahamas, Florida, the northern Gulf Coast of North America and the Caribbean coasts of Mesomamerica and South America. All these regions have been more or less swept up into the cultural sphere of the Caribbean Maya. The population of the larger region is considerably higher than OTL. Politically, the region is a mosaic of cities, confederations, towns, kingdoms and chiefdoms. The culture is highly diverse, varying from place to place in a number of loose groupings, but there are certainly cultural traits that bind them all together; a Caribbean equivalent of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, that synthesizes all the interacting societies. Ceremonial pilgrimage sites, ball games, cults and recreational foods... all shared across the sea lanes.

    Of late, the Maya settlements on the Pacific coast (in OTL’s Chiapas and Guatemala) have begun to send out their own trade expeditions along the coastline, and not without success. All of Mesoamerica is gradually being tied into the trade zone and its cultural sphere. It is only a matter of time.

    With open sea sailing now the norm, long distance expeditions along the coastline of the Americas are being attempted in the early 15th century. These are prestige undertakings by which the various great cities attempt to outdo one another. The always-present possibility of finding new trade partners also plays a role, of course. The most promising of these expeditions, undertaken at the end of the fourteenth century, is the daring journey down South America's west coast. A particularly enterprising group of wealthy merchants from a Maya city on the Pacific coast, determined not to be outdone by the more prominent teaders of the Caribbean, orders an unprecedented expedition to the far south. Travelling beyond Panama, the exceedingly experienced marined hired to carry out this feat reaches the urban centers of Ecuador— with their own impressive naval traditions and their well-established trade network up to lake Titicaca. Stopping by the Sican, Chimu, and Chincha cultures, the Maya crew ultimately brings back the most exotic textiles, smelted tools (the Chimu being known for their utilitarian bronze objects), hallucinogens, animals, and foods.

    This development causes a major boom in the establishment of new settlements on Mesoamerica’s Pacific coast in the middle of the 15th century, and lucrative trade with the various cultures to the south. To facilitate the transportation of goods, the leading merchants of various major cities eventually begin to discuss a wild idea: a canal, to be cut across the isthmus of Panama. (And this notion is not utterly ridiculous: the Egyptian Canal of the Pharaos, first cut in the sixth century BC, was 35 miles long, whereas OTL’s Panama Canal is 48 miles long.) As the fifteenth century nears its end, it remains a pipe-dream, and it may remain such forever, because...

    1492 AD — a merchant vessel makes its way from Hispaniola to Florida, its crew spots three large sails on the eastern horizon. Ships, bigger than any they have ever seen or known to exist, steadily approach. The markings on the sails, in the shape of flaring red crossess, are unknown to the Maya sailors. These ships seem very strange. And somehow, they seem ominous.
  10. Achaemenid Rome Iron Age City-State

    Aug 24, 2016
    Awesome scenario. I would love to see it made into a timeline.

    I have one suggestion. Historically, Andean ships made it to Mesoamerica around 800 AD. Perhaps this could be incorporated as well? Smelted tools would certainly help the early and middle period of ship construction.

    The existing trip to the Andes could be a new expedition after centuries of infrequent contact. Due to butterflies, perhaps the Chimu have developed ironworking by then. So instead of acquiring bronzeworking for the first time, the Maya begin to upgrade from bronze to iron after the Chimu voyage.
  11. John7755 يوحنا Lightweight Faqih

    Dec 30, 2014
    Would love to see such a tl. Out of all the western world (as in geographically), my most favored is the Caribbean, Louisiane, Mexico, Florida, etc...

    If anyone writes it, I'd of course offer my help.

    Great post, mind you, by @Skallagrim
    Skallagrim likes this.
  12. Cuāuhtemōc Instagram Fiend Gone Fishin'

    Jun 20, 2009
    Skallagrim likes this.
  13. Prism Well-Known Member

    Jan 22, 2012
    It would be quite easy for the Mayans to partly colonize the Caribbean. The Yucatan Peninsula is very close to Cuba, which likewise in next door neighbors with Florida. Sail wouldn't be needed for that. Numbers would however. Maybe before the Mayan Collapse with a population explosion and the need to expand and they decided to expand in the Caribbean to Florida and Georgia. There would be competition with the Mound Builders and proto-Iroquois of course,but maybe some alliances and developing a strong trade network would help in that.
  14. Tanc49 On Faraway Seas

    Oct 9, 2014
    @Skallagrim very cool!

    I do think you might be overestimating the time it would take for cultural innovation. Either for going to the Mississipi or Southern America. To be fair, I don't know much about it but it is fairly in the same corner of the world. Surely, one of them can drift there, or travel by foot?

    For example, we had European merchants in China from the XIIIth century at least, Vinland is something else that comes to mind... Is there any impossibility there?
    Tangle and Skallagrim like this.
  15. Skallagrim Not the one from YouTube. Different other fellow.

    Feb 5, 2014
    Wow. Just when you think you're already rather aware of how incredibly daring and intrepid can be... it turns out that sailors were already undertaking certain voyages hundred of years before you'd thought it to be plausible. I thought such contact was a best incidental. As described here, is was at least structural enough to facilitate the spread of metalworking techniques. That implies a frequency of contact beyond what I had dared to dream of.

    This changes everything, of course. And for the better! If there is contact with the Pacific coast polities of (southern) Mesoamerica and South America as early as the beginning of ninth century, then a further increase of contact between the Yucatan polities and these regions becomes plausible earlier than I had envisioned. In light of this, I'd place it as really gaining traction as of the Yucatan expansion that I saw happening in the 11th century-- with the Pacific coasts of Chiapas and Guatemala fully in Yucatan's sphere by 1100, the benefits of trade between the Maya trade network and the 'Pacific polities' to the south would soon be obvious.

    The increase would be gradual, but a truly intensive exchange of knowledge (in many fields) would get underway as of the early 12th century-- a full three hundred years earlier than I had thought!

    With the development of the catamaran in the 13th century, the intensity of trade here would also increase. Which all means that this...

    ...probably happens more gradually, starting in the late 12th and continuing through the 13th century, rather than happening in the 14th century.

    It also means that the "long distance expeditions along the coastline of the Americas" I evisioned for the early 15th century probably get going in the Pacific rather than the Atlantic, and in the 13th century rather than the early 15th. More importantly, this means that similar expeditions in the Atlantic may also catch on earlier, following the Pacific example. So... maybe by the late 13th or early 14th century?

    This means that our culture has a full centuy longer to execute such expeditions, and hundreds of years more to establish intensive contacts with Pacific-facing cultures to the south. As far as I can judge, that probably means:

    --More cultural interaction with the South American cultures, which will probably benefit both sides of the affair. Increased benefits for the Maya, but South American cultures also get a better shot at eventually surviving the arrival of the Europeans. At the very least, they'll be far better informed (via information spreading along the trade routes) about what the Europeans are like when these newcomers arrive in the Maya cultural sphere.

    --More chance of Maya expeditions along the coast of South America (on both sides).

    --More chance of the idea of a canal in Panama being raised earlier. I still think it would be very hard to actually achieve, but I think it can be done, with great difficulty. Whereas I previously envisioned it as first being though of in the mid-fifteenth century, now it could first be evisioned in the first half of the fourteenth century, with work on it actually commencing at the close of the fourteenth or the dawn of the fifteenth century. It might be completed just before Columbus shows up. (If we can indeed set it up so that the Chimu do develop ironworking due to the many innovations of increased tech exchange - say they manage it by the late 13th century - digging a canal becomes easier. Iron instruments would better serve this grand undertaking, methinks. I do not know if this development is plausible, but oh how I would love to see iron tech being introduced.)

    ...All in all, this creates an even vaster meta-network for trade, not only linking the Caribbean Maya and the Mississippians, but also bringing the Pacific-facing South American cultures fully into the mix at a far earlier stage. If anything can withstand the arrival of the Europeans, it will be this.

    Well, I was obviously wrong about South America. As for the settlement patterns along the Gulf coast of North America: I think that the region will be visited at an early stage, but won't be settled at once. Initially, the Maya won't see much of value there. The settlement at the Mississippi will mostly be established for the delta's rich soil. Only once the Mississippians migrate south will the area truly get its boom phase. Because then there is incentive for contact and settlement.

    So really, it's not so much about getting there, but about the perceived usefulness of setting up shop.

    The only area I don't see being settled (or being settled last perhaps) is the Mexican and Texan coastline, roughly between the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (which I envision as roughly the frontier of the "larger Yucatan" sphere) and the area of OTL's Galveston (which I envision to be the western border of the Gulf Coast settlement sphere). In between these areas, I don't think there is very much that the Maya would consider worthwhile. (Not that the area is actually worthless, but its advantages would not readily be exploited by the Mayan culture and tech, think, nor would the climate appeal to them, I think.) a general observation (that has just occurred to me): adjacent to the Yucatan Maya, across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, I can see an emerging confederation of Nahua cities becoming a trade partner as well. I don't know enough about the early history of the Nahua peoples to say too much about this, but I imagine the resulting culture will be more Maya-influenced, and won't turn into what we call the "Aztec Empire". Presumably, if they do get involved in the Caribbean trade, there will likely be more thriving Nahua towns on the Caribbean coast and a network of excellent roads between the coast and the Valley of Mexico.

    On the Pacific side, the Purépecha culture - a.k.a. the Tarascans - could fulfill a similar role. As I said, I'm less confident in making statements here, but if more peoples can be included in the larger trade network's orbit, so much the better.

    EDIT: a quick map of what the situation might ultimately look like, showing the vaious main cultural spheres / trade networks, but obviously not their (presumably many) internal subdivisions. I have included the major related/adjacent cultures in the Mississippian sphere, under the assumption that given the ATL boost they get from trade and tech exchange, they will be able to pull those firmly into their orbit.

    Maya ATL map.jpg
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2017
  16. Masked Grizzly Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2011
    How would this impact the Polynesians assuming the latter manage to settle the Galapagos or Easter Island and trade with much of Mesoamerica as mentioned in the Polynesian Galapagos Discussion thread, with this ATL Mesoamerican trade network somehow managing to establish links with the ancient Polynesian trade routes further afield?
    Skallagrim likes this.
  17. Skallagrim Not the one from YouTube. Different other fellow.

    Feb 5, 2014
    How you treat it depends a lot on how you treat divergence in an ATL. Personally, I always go with a single POD and strict causality (so: just one divergence, and all changes must ultimately derive from there), but there are people who go with strict causality but are willing to go with multiple PODS (for instance: the Maya develop outrigger canoes and the Polynsesians reach and settle the Galapagos Islands) or who just go with "true" butterfly effect (the Maya develop outrigger canoes, and the random butterflies/changes to the resulting reality inlude non-causal ones, such as the Polynsesians reaching and settling the Galapagos Islands).

    Those latter options make things easier in this specific instance, of course, and are perfectly valid. But it's not my way of doing things, so if I'm setting it up, the history of the Polynesians would be the same up until the point where they hypothetically encounter the ATL trade network. Now, given what I've read in the thread you linked, it is not ASB to have Polynesians reach South America. In fact, it seems to me, given the fact that thry brought a new crop back with them, that not only a retour trip is possible, but that it probably happened more than once. Contact was likely incidental... but not isolated to one incident, I'd suspect. I think we may reasonably operate under the assumption that Polynesian vessels occasionally ventured out far enough to get to South America. One can therefore simply include such an encounter, treating it as one of the OTL ones, that takes place at some point after 1200 (when the ATl trade contact between the Maya sphere and South America gets far more intensive than it had previously been).

    As this is also the era wherein the ATL Maya get very interested in more daring oceanic expeditions... the outcome might simply be that they make contact, find out that these Polynesians have at least some idea about South America and very sporadically travel there... and decide to accompany the Polynesians on their journey back west. After all, why not? They'd want to know who these people are. If the Polynesians learn that there is a very large trade area full of interesting goods, they'd probably be inclined to favour further contact. The fact that the Maya vessels are of such an interesting design probably also helps.

    So, yes. Contact with the Polynesians is possible, although I'd place it in the 13th century at the earliest. Travel distances will mean that travel between these two spheres will be less frequent, but cultural, agricultural and technological exchange is of course possible. (Conceivably, the Polynesians could give the Maya some very useful pointers on oceanic travel!)
    Cuāuhtemōc, Rob Roy and Soverihn like this.
  18. Masked Grizzly Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2011
    Understand and respect the single POD and strict causality approach.

    Though it is very likely ASB one interesting idea that would entail multiple PODs is a scenario where it possisbly takes a bit longer for the ATL European explorers to be dispelled of the illusion that they reached Asia rather than a New World. A result of Indian cultural influence reaching the Polynesians to begin impacting their mythology as opposed to outright adopting a specific Dharmic belief system (perhaps via a successful New Guinean civilization / island nation by way of Srivijaya), which is subsequently on the verge of being transmitted to Mesoamerica via the partly/semi-Indianized Polynesians by the time ATL European explorers begin to arrive.
    Tangle likes this.
  19. Jon the Numbat Well-Known Member

    Jun 15, 2016
    Neotropic Florida
    [Incoming massive wall of text]

    Great posts @Skallagrim, I think the time frame is plausible. I've decided to add in a few more details to flesh out these processes further:

    Outrigger fishermen bring cultural elements of the Maya and Cuba cultures to Florida around the 800s. The Gulf stream assures they reach there. The Calusa, who were already a fishing boat building culture adopt them readily. Elements from the Caloosahatchee culture (ropes, causways, canals) from which they belong spread to Cuba and northward along the coast. On the east coast, fishermen returning from the Bahamas spread the outrigger design to the St. John's culture.

    The Indigenous peoples of the Florida panhandle encounter Caloosahatchee fishermen more often than before and while trading items from the north for the fishing catch and tools, they begin making outrigger canoes with fibered baskets to travel along the coast and up rivers. The design becomes a staple of the Gulf coast Mississippian cultures and new towns of such type are founded near the shore owing to a small but steady stream of goods from the Caribbean as well as the ability to catch more fish and trade the bounty. As Cuba becomes a source for Maya goods like cotton and cocoa, Floridian traders grow wealthy by bargaining these items up the peninsula. Agricultural communities in southern Florida become much more common than OTL, benefiting from tropical plants that can be grown in a climate closer to home. This, coupled with the abundant marine based resources, allows for larger populations to be sustained.

    By the 1100s outrigger designs have spread to Louisiana owing to the extensive connections that tie the Mississippian culture together. Since pottery, copper, and shells were bartered over land distances far rougher than the coast, the trade route towards the Caribbean (though sporadic compared to core Mississippian sites) is well within the realms of sustainability. It is in this time frame that Vieux Carré is founded, originally as a farming-fishing village of the late Coles creek culture. The transition to the Plaquemine culture still occurs but this incarnation has benefited from new boats and subtle trade with growing Florida.

    Meanwhile, with the study posted by @Achaemenid Rome in mind we could see some unique terminal classic developments. The Classic-Postclassic shift sees the center of Maya urban society move not only to northern Yucatan but also beyond to Cuba as well as east towards Belize and coastal Honduras. The moving communities travel along the fishermen routes established centuries earlier. New Maya descended dialects form in coastal central Cuba and Honduras analogous to the Huastec. Accompanying this is the growth of mixed Maya-Arawak and Maya-Honduran societies. These societies, with new Caribbean agricultural techniques spare the southeastern Maya area from becoming irrelevant. Road systems are stronger than the same era of OTL meaning ideas and technologies from the Pacific coast have the chance to spread gradually to the Caribbean. Coastal ports in the greater Antilles flourish while the inland chiefdoms centralize under fortified towns and hamlets.

    The 1100s will see sites in the south central Maya area recover while near coastal Belize and Honduras emerge as powerful as their counterparts in the north. The result is the Ulua basin and the Honduran coast becoming the seat of a unique Post Classical urban culture, as well as the encounter with sail/raft making peoples of South America. The era of glory for this new phase in Maya civilization is inaugurated by the invention of the catamaran in the 1200s, inspired by rafts seen on both sides of the isthmus.

    Equipped with catamarans and the skills learned from South America open sailing becomes a growing phenomena for the Maya, Cuba, Taino, Chibcha, and Caloosahatche; the later three are more populated and commerce oriented than OTL. Sailors travel directly from Yucatan and Colombia to Jamaica and from Cuba to the Florida panhandle. This new found confidence at sea has emboldened the disparate people of the trade network to ply the coasts and migrate further afield, they can carry more of their cargo physically and culturally. The Post Classic south sends regular trips to Panama,Ecuador and Peru. They pick a bounty of exotic foods, (some nobles have even made gardens and pens), tools and a curious idea from Peru and Ecuador....

    From The Cambridge history of the Native Peoples of the Americas, South America part 1 page 548:

    "The truly novel feature in the development of Batan Grande [Sican Culture] was a spectacular production of copper for all types of utensils and adornments. One fascinating product is the so-called playing cards (naipes) made of copper. These are flat sheets sime 5-7 centimeters long, in shapes resembling small hatchets. They are found in tied packets, generally as funeral offerings. Other similar objects found in the Milagro phase of the Ecuadorian region of Guayas, are known as "axe money" though they are usually far too thin, soft, and dull to cut anything. Sometimes the packets group these objects in multiples of ten. They could have been units in the circulation of copper through what is known mineralogically to have been an extensive network. In Batan Grande, Shimada found evidence of copper work at all stages, from mining through refining, smelting and shaping."

    Our returning voyagers from Mexico bring back even more techniques to smelt metal tools. In addition, smelting techniques also disseminate throughout the Caribbean. Mesoamerican metalwork is more common and diverse than OTL with more cultures developing unique styles, uses and expressions. Copper becomes a medium of exhange between the cultures connected by the interaction sphere. One area, once peripheral to the network soon becomes one of it's most important destinations...

    Florida's societies continued to grow in size and complexity owing to its warm climate and land connections to the Mississippian culture. They obtained copper via this route since time immemorial, but now there exists a great demand for smelted copper, as tools and currency. Its working became ubiquitous across the Caribbean and Mesoamerica. The Gulf Coast and Florida, connected to abundant copper sources in the Grest Lakes, became a new focus for trading outposts.

    The effects of this trade were nothing short of revolutionary. Powerful chiefdoms matured in Florida, the largest based at Big Mound City near Canal point utilized aquaculture in addition to radiating causways to create one of the peninsula's greatest pilgrimage sites. To the west along the Gulf, the Fort Walton, Pensacola, and Plaquemine cultures received Caribbean and Mesoamerican sailors along their fishing villages. They did not come empty handed. Chilies, chocolate, textiles, ornaments, exotic feathers, smelted objects, honey, salt, skins and ceramics were carried on their catamarans. Well recieved by the natives, communities of traders were established within many of the coastal Mississippian sites. Already making outriggers, the Mississippian port towns took to constructing catamarans in their own style and before long were sailing them to the Caribbean, a land beyond the sea with cities and treasures beyond imagination. By controlling the distribution of these goods to the interior, the Gulf chiefs grew famously wealthy and one site would be the wealthiest of them all...

    The Vieux Carré site of Plaquemine culture grew exponentially thanks to its fertile soils and direct trade with the south. A new archaeological horizon begins around the 1300s. Characterized by a dazzling array of Mesoamerican and Caribbean artifacts, large mounds, ditches, canals, and a large population, the stylistic types Vieux Carré expand northward. Cahokia's influence meanwhile spreads southward, eventually fully connecting the copper sources far to the north to the Caribbean.

    Some other Plaquemine sites share Vieux Carré's unique iconography. Most prominent are warrior emblems and effigy vessels of priests and priestesses. This indicates the rise of one of the most powerful of Mississippian chiefdoms. It is called by its inhabitants "Ku-Hanan", based on the Chitimacha words water and house respectively. The name derives from the large harbors of catamarans, canoes and rafts near its largest canals. Some settlements dominated by the Ku-Hanan Chiefdom become specialized centers for manufacturing and distributing goods. Copper, river canoes and rafts, catamarans, textiles, and pottery workshops, and plantations across the Plaquemine culture testify to the chiefdom's influence.

    Controlling the diminished hunting grounds, maintaining workers in its various sectors, the lucrative copper trade, wood for boats, tropical/subtropical fibers for fishing and sails leads to the rise of a military of elite warriors and religious means of ensuring legitimacy. Ku-Hanan comes to dominate other local chiefdoms as vassals, who pay tribute in traded items and captives to the paramount. The late 1400s sees the Plaquemine and parts of the surrounding cultures united under Ku-Hanan hegemony. In fact it's name had a reputation across the gulf of Mexico and into the Ohio river, spoken by oral historians and even bearing a gliph of it's name in a Huastec codex.

    By the 1450s the Caribbean, Mesoamerica, Gulf Coast, and even Ecuador are fully brought within the interaction sphere. Mississippian copper plates can be found in Veracruz Yucatan and Puerto Rico. Chemical tests reveal that copper traveled further still, to northern Peru. Ball courts and chunkey fields are common in the larger urban centers. Copper and alloy tools are a ubiquitous among the islands. Centralizing Colombian polities grow rich from being excellent middlemen and while a network of roads and causeways connect the two seas at Panama, a local noble has been constantly bringing up the idea to make a canal during his stay at the city hosting the Great Festival...
  20. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

    Apr 13, 2007
    Syracuse, Haudenosaunee, Vinland
    Cool ideas, guys