Smithsonian magazine’s May issue probes “the mysteries of the Maya.” If there is something that annoys me in popular media it is the image of the “mysterious” and the “exotic” Maya. We do not have to retreat to postcolonial theory to see how this vocabulary always shows up in descriptions of some “cultures” and not others. Have you ever heard about the mysterious Swedes or Americans? I have written about these issues before. Along with these mystifications we tend to find exaggerations of the “cultures” under discussion.
As argued before on this blog, El Mirador is a brand but it tends to be a bit blown out of proportion (such as having a pyramid larger than the pyramid of Khufu). In this issue Richard Hansen continues to make statements that are not exactly true, such as this: “That’s a causeway. There’s a plastered roadbed under there 2 to 6 meters high and 20 to 40 meters wide. A sacbe it’s called—white road. It runs for about 12 kilometers from Mirador to Nakbe. It’s part of the first freeway system in the world.” A causeway is not quite a freeway, which according to Wikipedia is “a limited access divided highway with grade separated junctions and without traffic lights or stop signs.” Apart from the obvious lack of traffic lights and stop signs at ancient El Mirador, the other criteria does not really fit evidence either. There are no lengthwise divisions of a causeway and no grade separated junctions, etc. Although the causeway systems at Maya sites sometimes are impressive, they are nothing compared to the Roman road system. That road system comes a bit closer to the freeway system Hansen mentions (but still not the same). Whereas all roads led to Rome, not all roads in the Maya area led to El Mirador, not even at the “height” of El Mirador’s power. I simply wish people ceased to make unsubstantiated statements that includes the world’s first, largest, oldest, tallest, most massive, richest, unique, etc. That don’t impress me much.