The Archeotourist — 02

Richard Crim
8 min readApr 18, 2022

The Roads of the Maya

Sacbe road, Site of Labna, State of Yucatan, Mexico

Sacbeob (pronounced sock-bay-oob), Maya for “white roads”, are found throughout the Maya world. This one is typical of those found in the Puuc hills, several hundred miles to the west of Coba.

Excavated and restored section of a sacbe, Site of Chichen Itza, State of Yucatan, Mexico

This excavated and restored segment of road is at the city of Chichen Itza. The environment is the same as Coba’s and the technique of road construction is the same. Two stone retaining walls holding a causeway style, elevated roadbed, with a stuccoed cap applied as surfacing.

Roads are important markers of societies and civilizations. Roads make it possible to efficiently move people and goods from place to place. They make it possible to move armies rapidly. They make possible the exchange of information and news and they help make societies cosmopolitan and dynamic.

Roads are important but they take a lot of effort to build. They are generational “long term” projects that take sustained funding and a stable labor force to pull off. The roads of the Maya were not hard packed dirt paths through the jungle, or simple graveled trails. They were carefully engineered and constructed. They match the best roads in the world built by anyone in any time frame.

Diagram of Maya Sacbe cross section

The diagram above shows a cross section of the standard technique the Maya used for road building throughout their cultural sphere of influence. These were well designed, carefully engineered, all weather roads. Meant to stand up to heavy usage and meant to last. Building a road like this was a major undertaking.

The Maya built a lot of them.

The Sacbeob of Coba, a Maya city of the Yucatan

Coba had an extensive road network

This map shows Coba’s known road network. All the straight lines that you see are sacbe. All of them were built to the same standard and with the…

Richard Crim

My entire life can be described in one sentence: Things didn’t go as planned, and I’m OK with that.