Did a Seventh-Century Warrior Queen Build the Maya’s Longest Road?

Theresa Machemer/Smithsonianmag.com

When Lady K’awiil Ajaw, warrior queen of the Maya city of Cobá, needed to show her strength against the growing power of Chichen Itza, she took decisive action, building the then-longest road in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and pav her army to counter the enemy’s influence by seizing the distant city of Yaxuná—or so a new analysis published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports suggest.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Miami and the Proyecto de Interaction del Centro de Yucatan (PIPCY), shows that the 62-mile path is not a straight line as previously assumed, but a winding path that swerves through several smaller settlements. Because the road was raised, the researchers were able to spot it using LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology, which measures the texture of a landscape based on how long it takes light to reflect back—like echolocation, but with lasers.

Built around 700 A.D., the sacbe, or “white road,” derived its name from a limestone plaster paving that, thanks to the reflection of ambient light, would have been visible even at night.

“We tend to interpret [such projects] as activities which sort of proclaim the power of one polity, or at.

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