The Maya's Main Commercial Center Chunchucmil

by Frank D. Gardner

Chunchucmil was discovered by modern archaeologists and considered as one of the most perplexing among all the Mayan cities, as well as one of the most important as it gave us knowledge of the way their individual city-based empires connected and interfaced. It's not recognized by amazing structures, having very few pyramids, stelea, or huge ancient monuments of all kinds. It was not dominated by a renowned master. It was not even constructed in a very good area - somewhat the opposite, based on modern scientists. However this city, is a lot more than any other in the region as it illustrates as well as informs our understanding of the ancient Mesoamerica trade systems. During its peak, it was a distinctive as well as enormous business center, without dominance by any alliance group, however the meeting place and also melting pot for a wide array of influences and cultures from over the region - without whose continuous mutually beneficial exchanges and intermingling the Chunchucmil city would not have been able to live in any way.

An Inhospitable Area

Even with its clear importance, Chunchucmil was established on one of most inhospitable sites of the Yucatan Peninsula. The remains of the city sit on a thin strip of partially desert ground which has the driest environments among any Mayan lands. Within this area, the soil is sparse and very poor; measuring just a couple of inches at its deepest, almost half of the region is without any covering, resulting in the limestone substrate which lies beneath much of the Yucatan definitely open. It was initially named after a well, which means, "well at the base of the Chukum Tree", in literal sense. It is situated halfway between then shore and the inland Mayan city of Ixkintok and about 30 kilometres from the ocean, sitting at the north-western tip of the peninsula. The exact size of the city hasn't been specifically measured, yet was estimated to be 25 to 65 square kilometres. Notwithstanding being established in such an unwelcoming environment - and in many cases, in particular as a result of this fact - there is enough evidence that Chunchucmil was a massive trade route centre that spanned the distance between the Gulf of Mexico as well as the interior of the peninsula.

Assembled Structures

It was during the Mayan Classical Pyramid that Chunchucmil's development reached its peak. The layout of the city is clearly defined as well as provided us with a remarkable insight as to how the land was utilized, even though t was not known for its monuments. Nearly all of Chunchucmil was separated into "quadrangles," or rectangular grids on which individual settlements were made. Such quadrangles were interconnected using a network of stone-lined paths which generally extended outward from the center of the city, lending its construction that is comparable to that of a honeycomb; these stone paths, when leaving the city, led to the outlying suburbs with larger roads connecting them, and then finally to the long-distance roads that joined Chunchucmil to its trading partners.

There are two types of quadrangles which can be determined by the buildings that they contain. The so called "picj" quadrangle groups were determined by pyramids, typically between 8 and 18 meters high. Resting between the pyramid as well as the other buildings lining the edges of the rectangular plot was a big courtyard, which would generally consist of ceremonial platforms or altars; this group is actually shown to be of religious significance. The residential groups, in contrast, were bounded by stone walls, and even comprised housing for the population of Chunchucmil. A small yard can be found in the centre of these building groups. The clear boundaries between lots, and the shrine or small temple for household rituals which is represented at most such excavated plots, isn't distinct in style to the ones discovered at various other cities in Mesoamerica such as Teotihuacan, affording even more evidence to the true trade routes reached by Chunchucmil.

A Flourishing Economic Climate

The very fact of its existence is one of the major puzzles of Chunchucmil. In such an inhospitable and dry environment with poor prospects for cultivation and farming, how could such a city thrive, survive and grow sufficient food to provide its citizens? The undeniable answer appears to be that Chunchucmil was the most flourishing marketplaces of Mesoamerica. Goods from all over the region traveled back and forth this city on the numerous roads which generally spiraled out from its centre, pulling a great and different range of people and goods together in just one sizeable marketplace. This likewise goes far towards explaining the absence of any sort of king, lineage, or religious dynasty enshrined on stele through the entire urban centre, as was de rigour for most Mayan cities; it was a centre with many cultures as it is where tribes, cultures and religions met and exchanged goods, where commerce is given much importance than politics and religion.

A historical hint to such marvel arrives in the form of "prismatic blades", or sharp cutting tools disintegrated from bigger valuable stones such as obsidian, that are significantly found at Chunuchmil. We know these blades were not locally produced, from close examination and even if ample technology and resources existed to make them; as a matter of fact, they came from Guatemala which is more than thousand kilometers away! The amount of these blades hauled from the location - just enough that they can be regarded as disposable items for the hoi polloi of the city - provides a clear conclusion that the frequent long distance trade made them available and easily obtainable that the people of Chunchucmil thought nothing of getting such tools from the trading markets, just like we seldom rethink about the main geographical source of the processed or canned food we grab from the grocery store!

Do you want to visit and explore the Mayan Cities? If so, come to Chichen Itza.

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