Friday, February 22, 2013

The Mayans and their balsam log rafts

A fascinating blog which I go back to time and again is The Indigenous History of El Salvador by Tim Lohrentz.   His most recent post, titled Thor Heyerdahl and the Production of Balsam Rafts in El Salvador,  looks at how the Mayans found that the balsam trees growing in the mountains of El Salvador provided great logs for ocean going rafts.  

Here is an excerpt:

What is most noticeable about the balsam is the sap. They most likely tried to light it to use as an incense or charcoal, as well as to rub onto canoes and rafts.
At some point the Maya were able to get a balsam log into standing water - not so easy from the steep [Balsam mountain range in El Salvador]. They noticed four things about the balsam that make it the best tree in the Americas for ocean-going rafts and perhaps the best in the world:
  • The size of the logs both in terms of width and length - the trees grow 40 meters tall;
  • The straightness of the trunk;
  • The resin-laden wood which makes it extremely resistant to water, including salt water;
  • The buoyancy of the wood.
 Read the rest of this interesting article here.

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