Podcast Transcript: Western Mexico and countries on the west coast of South American had ancient relationships, involving trade in goods and culture. Now MIT students have analyzed just how this communication and transportation system worked. The research was published in the Journal of Anthropological Research.
First, the students recreated a raft, based on descriptions in European colonial writings. They successfully tested it on Boston’s Charles River. Then the student used computerized engineering design programs to test the raft’s size, weight, and cargo capacity. They had to develop a much more detailed design for the raft’s dimensions than what was available in the centuries-old drawings. But they didn’t stop at aerodynamics and hydrodynamics—they also delved into biology. Because shipworms can make a quick snack of South American balsa wood.
A one-way voyage would take between six and eight weeks. So how long would a raft last on the journey before succumbing to shipworms? According to the student¹s simulations, rafts could last two full round trips between Mexico and the Andean countries. Enough time for a vibrant exchange of goods and ideas.