Could the Maya Reach Florida?

The Maya were known for their spectacular cities featuring dazzling pyramids. But these cities, often having 100-200,000 inhabitants, required an enormous amount of resources to not only feed and house these citizens but also to adorn them in the latest fashions and jewelry. The Mayan markets were supplied these goods by traders traveling far flung trade networks on land and sea. Could Florida have been one of the places where such resources were procured?

The Poton Maya were Mesoamerica’s master seafarers. Known as the Chontal Maya by the Aztecs and the Maritime Maya by modern researchers, they controlled the coastal sea routes from southeastern Mexico, around the Yucatan peninsula, and as far south as Panama.

The trip from the Potonchan area of Mexico to Panama required them to paddle a total of  1,950 miles one way.

A jade axe from Guatemala found on the island of Antigua in the far eastern Caribbean Sea is proof the Poton did not limit their travels to just coastal waters. Since jade does not float it had to have reached Antigua by canoe. The distance between Guatemala and Antigua is 2,143 miles.

They would have had to pass Cuba along the way. There are multiple lines of evidence of  Maya contact with the local Taino tribes of Cuba.

Thus we see the Poton Maya had no trouble traveling 2,143 miles east to Antigua. They also had no trouble traveling  1,950 miles south to Panama. Is there any doubt they could have reached Florida?

If the Poton Maya traveled north the same distance they traveled south then they would end up in Florida. It would only be 800 miles north to reach the mouth of the Rio Grande River in Texas, 1100 miles to Houston, 1400 miles to the Mississippi River,  1600 miles to Mobile Bay, 1800 miles to the Apalachicola River in the Florida panhandle, 1,950 miles to the mouth of the Suwannee River, and 1,995 miles to Crystal River. In other words, if they traveled the same distance north that we know they traveled south then they would have ended up near the Crystal River site in Florida. Multiple lines of evidence at the Crystal River site suggest a Mayan presence.

Yet the distance would have been even shorter had they traveled to Cuba and the Florida Keys. Following this route from Potonchan in Mexico to Crystal River in Florida is a distance of 1300 miles. That’s six hundred miles shorter than their known travels to Panama and 800 miles shorter than their travels to Antigua.

Spanish eyewitness accounts noted tribes from Cuba and other Caribbean Islands not only traveled to Florida but also settled there. These same accounts noted a tribe called the Mayaimi lived around Lake Okeechobee, Mayajuaca near Cape Canaveral, and Mayaca at Lake George.

Even today, people from Cuba have reached Florida on the flimsiest of makeshift rafts as they escape the island’s Communist regime. Others have reached the Yucatan. If makeshift rafts can make the journey then giant canoes with 25 rowers, as Columbus described one such Poton Maya canoe, would not have had a problem.

Thus it seems clear the Poton Maya could have easily traveled anywhere along the Gulf Coast of the Southeastern U.S. with relative ease. In fact, it appears they could, and likely did, circumnavigate both the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

Gary C. Daniels

Gary C. Daniels is an award-winning, Emmy-nominated television, video and multimedia writer and producer. He has a M.A. degree in Communications from Georgia State University in Atlanta, a B.F.A. degree in TV Production from the Savannah College of Art and Design and an A.A. degree in Art from the College of Coastal Georgia. He has appeared on the Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, Science Channel and History Channel. His History Channel appearance became the highest-rated episode in the network's history. He has a passion for Native American history and art. He is the founder and publisher of