Thursday, October 13, 2011

Land Southward Travel Times

Many cultures throughout history have noted distance between two points as the time required to travel from one to the other. For example, In Washakie County, Wyoming, is the small town of Ten Sleep. The Sioux used to travel from Fort Laramie (not the much larger Laramie where the University of Wyoming is located) on the North Platte River to what is today Bridger, Montana. It took them 10 days or "sleeps" to reach a pleasant little valley at the confluence of two streams at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains. They called the place "Ten Sleep" and it carries that unusual name today.  Plotting Fort Laramie and Ten Sleep in Google Earth, we see they are 310 air kilometers apart, which means the Sioux on this particular route averaged 31 air kilometers per day. Of course, their actual travel route was much longer as they made their way up, down, round about and over this rough terrain. Since we don't know exactly what path they traveled, we can't compute trail kilometers, but we can easily determine air kilometers as the distance between the beginning and ending points on this leg of their journey.
Sioux route from the North Platte River to Ten Sleep, Wyoming.
The fact that the Sioux routinely traveled 31 straight-line kilometers per day gives us a baseline with which to measure pre-industrial human activity in this part of the Rocky Mountains.
The Spaniards who conquered Mexico and Central America also measured distance with time. The Spanish league (legua) was typically the distance a man could walk in one hour, about 4.2 kilometers or 2.6 miles.
So, it is not particularly surprising that Nephites in The Book of Mormon recorded distances in number of days traveled. For instance, it took 8 days for Alma I and his converts to flee from the Waters of Mormon (actually, Alma's converts fled from their homes in the lands of Nephi and Shilom) to the Land of Helam Mosiah 23:3. How far would they have traveled in those 8 days? Relative distance questions such as this have fascinated curious Book of Mormon students for decades. Was a "day's journey" in Book of Mormon parlance Alma 8:6, Helaman 4:7 a standard unit of measure among the Nephites? Based on Alma 11:4 we believe the answer is yes.

We have established that The Book of Mormon Land Southward is the area known today as southern Mexico and northern Central America. See the article "The Book of Mormon Map as of October, 2011" in this blog. We will now use Google Earth to plot actual distances from known pre-industrial journeys in our area of interest. These historical distances will help us establish a baseline with which to measure travel in Book of Mormon Mesoamerica.
We start with a noted military expedition from the Teotihuacan empire that subjugated a number of southern lowland Maya city-states (for the approximate boundaries of the 3 Maya settlement regions, see the article "Water Fight on the River - Round Eighteen" in this blog) in 378 AD (close to the time Mormon and Moroni were leading the Nephites into their final great battle with the Lamanites in the Land of Cumorah). Our data is from the August, 2007 National Geographic article entitled "The Kingmaker" about the Teotihuacan influence that helped usher in the Maya classic era. From stela 31 at Tikal and other Mayan epigraphic sources, we know that the warlord, Fire is Born, with his military entourage entered Waka (modern El Peru) on January 8, 378 AD, and quickly took control of the city. He then recruited additional troops for his army and entered Tikal 8 days later on January 16, 378 AD.
378 AD military expedition from El Peru to Tikal in 8 days.
This particular journey of conquest along the San Pedro River in Guatemala's central Peten covered 78 air kilometers in 8 days for a mean travel speed of 9.75 straight-line kilometers per day.
The Post-classic Maya had lively commerce in both directions from the river port of Nito near the present-day city of Livingston, Guatemala, around the Yucatan Peninsula to the port of Xicalango on the Laguna de Terminos in present-day Tabasco, Mexico. Paddling near the coast in ocean-going canoes, Maya merchants carried vast quantities of trade goods. From Nito, there was also a southern coastal route that went up the San Juan River that forms the border between present-day Nicaragua and Costa Rica to trading ports on Lake Nicaragua.
1,600 kilometer long Maya trading route
around Yucatan in 40 days.
 Maya traders with multiple oarsmen per vessel made this 1,600 kilometer trip in about 40 days, for a mean travel speed of 40 kilometers per day.
In late Post-classic times, the Chontal Maya of Acalan in modern-day Campeche traveled up and down the Candelaria River to the major trading port of Xicalango on the western shores of the Laguna de Terminos. They could make the journey down the river to the lake in 1 day. On the return trip, it took them 3 days to go the same distance upriver against the current, negotiating rapids and falls.
Itzamkanak to Laguna de Terminos in 1 day downriver
and 3 days upriver.
They traveled 167 river kilometers and 67 air kilometers downstream in 1 long day for a mean travel speed of 67 straight-line kilometers per day. Upstream, their speed decreased to 22.33 straight-line kilometers per day. These rates are very similar to numbers reported by Sylvanus G. Morley in the
1910-1938 time frame when he traveled extensively throughout southern Mesoamerican at the head of Carnegie Institution Expeditions. On canoe trips throughout Maya lands, Morley routinely traveled 9 - 10 kilometers per hour downstream and 3 kilometers per hour upstream.
In 1525, Hernan Cortes led an army of 3,000 soldiers across present day Tabasco, Campeche, and Guatemala en route to Honduras to put down an insurrection. In one incredibly brutal march, this military force traveled from the Acalan capital of Itzamkanak (modern El Tigre) on the Candelaria River in Campeche to Lake Peten Itza in north central Guatemala in 5 very long days.
Hernan Cortes' 1525 military expedition
through the Peten jungle in 5 days.
In typical Spanish conquistador style, Cortes traveled with horses and armaments. He had native guides, rough maps, and advance groups of soldiers clearing the way, building crude bridges over wetlands, etc. This entire army (the majority of whom were native Americans) covered 160 air kilometers in 5 grueling days, for a mean travel speed of 32 straight-line kilometers per day.
In 1586, Friar Alonso Ponce took a 10-day trip from San Juan Tiltepec near present-day Tonala, Chiapas, to Ayutla, Guatemala, just over the Suchiate River from the modern city of Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico.
10 days from San Juan Tiltepec, Chiapas along the Soconusco
coast to Ayutla, just over the Suchiate River in Guatemala.
Father Ponce stopped many times along the way and still managed to cover the 243 point-to-point kilometers in 10 days for a mean travel speed of 24.3 point-to-point kilometers per day. Carlos Navarrete believed that without all the rest stops, this trip routinely took 4 or 5 days in Spanish Colonial times. To do this trip in 4 days would have meant a mean travel rate of 60.75 point-to-point kilometers per day. The more conservative 5 days would have resulted in a mean travel speed of 48.6 point-to- point kilometers per day.
On September 3, 1586, Friar Alonso Ponce began a 13 day trip in the present-day town of San Antonio Huista in the Department of Huehuetenango, Guatemala. He traveled along the Spanish Camino Real with pack animals, stopping at Catholic Missions and private haciendas along the way. Waypoints included Coapa, Comitan, Amatenango, Teopisca, Ciudad Real de Chiapa (San Cristobal de las Casas), Zinacantan, Ixtapa, Chiapa de los Indios (Chiapa de Corzo), Tuxtla (Tuxtla Gutierrez), Ocozocoautla, Jiquipilas, and Macuilapa, before the journey ended near present-day San Pedro Tapantepec, Oaxaca.
1586 Spanish journey from Guatemala to Oaxaca in 13 days.
Father Ponce covered 345 point-to-point air kilometers in 13 days, for a mean travel speed of 26.5 straight-line kilometers per day. He crossed many large rivers, dozens of smaller streams, and swampy wetlands. Some of the rivers were spanned by crude bridges. He also records very steep ascents and descents coming over the Sierra Madre Mountains.
In 1695, the President of Guatemala, Don Jacinto de Barrios, captained an expedition to the Lacandons in their jungle fastness around Lacandon Lake. The Lacandons reported that they traveled to Coban regularly, and that it was an 8 - 10-day trip by land, or a 15-day trip going upriver in a canoe.
1695 Report of Lacandon Travels to Coban in 8 - 10 days.
The Lacandons covered 141 air kilometers. If they made the trip in 8 days, their mean rate of travel was 17.6 straight-line kilometers per day. If they took the more conservative 10 days to make the trip, they traveled at the rate of 14.1 straight-line kilometers per day.
In the latter half of the 1800's and the early part of the 1900's, generations of itinerant merchants from Mapastepec, Chiapas, traveled with pack trains to Chicomuselo, Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapa de Corzo, San Cristobal de las Casas, Amatenango del Valle, and finally Comitan, trading along the way. The trip was 450 trail kilometers or 357 air kilometers and they routinely covered that distance in 15 days.
Mapastepec to Chicomuselo to Tuxtla Gutierrez
and on to Comitan in 15 days.
357 air kilometers in 15 days equates to a mean travel rate of 23.8 straight-line kilometers per day.
Until the early 1900's, human tumpline porters carried merchandise throughout Guatemala. Ruth Bunzel, in her book Chichicastenango, a Guatemalan Village, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1959, reports standard porter travel times between a number of cities, including Rabinal and Coban. A typical porter's burden in those days was 25 kilograms.
Human porters carrying merchandise traveled between
Rabinal and Coban in the early 1900's in 3 days.
From Rabinal to Coban, porters traveled 44 air kilometers in 3 days for a mean travel rate of 14.66 straight-line kilometers per day.
The same porters traveled the gentler route  from San Cristobal Verapaz through Coban to Cahabon in 4 days.
Human Porters carrying merchandise traveled from
San Cristobal Verapaz to Coban and on to Cahabon
in the early 1900's in 4 days.
From San Cristobal Verapaz to Coban and then to Cahabon was 78 air kilometers. Porters making this trip in 4 days were moving at a mean travel rate of 19.5 straight-line kilometers per day.
Heavily-laden petty merchants from Coban in the early part of the twentieth century used to travel from Cahabon, Guatemala, north east to San Pedro de Columbia, Belize in 16 days. These "Cobaneros" followed the Rio Sarstun for part of their journey and ended up on the southern flank of the Maya Mountains. The way point Chahal marked the boundary between the highlands to the south and the lowlands to the north.
Merchants weighed down with trade goods traveled from
Cahabon to San Antonio Columbia in 16 days. 
The cargo-hauling merchants on this route covered 153 point to point air kilometers in 16 days, which means they moved at a mean travel rate of 9.56 straight line kilometers per day.
In 1931, Sylvanus G. Morley led a Carnegie Institution Expedition to Yaxchilan. The team traveled up the Usumacinta River to Tenosique, then went overland with a pack train on a well-known trail west of the river. The course they followed was approximately where the Mexican Frontier Highway runs today. The trip took them 5 1/2 days.
1931 Carnegie Institution Expedition went from
Tenosique to Yaxchilan in 5 1/2 days.
This well-equipped archaeological expedition with horses and mules covered 151 point-to-point air miles in 5.5 days for a mean travel rate of 27.45 kilometers per day.
Travel by dugout canoe upstream on a slow-moving river can be about as fast (3 kilometers per hour) as overland foot travel. Travel downstream in a canoe can be much faster than foot travel, depending of course on the swiftness of the current. In his numerous travels throughout Maya country, Sylvanus G. Morley often achieved downstream travel rates of 9 - 10 kilometers per hour. A heavily-laden canoe will travel slower than a lighter vessel carrying less gear and fewer supplies. A canoe with multiple paddlers will travel faster than a solo canoeist. On one trip, Morley traveled from Sayaxche on the Pasion River to Altar de Sacrificios at the confluence of the Pasion with the Salinas (the point where the Usumacinta begins). Morley covered these 80 river kilometers in 18 hours.
One of Sylvanus G. Morley's many trips in the 1930's. He traveled
downstream on the slow-moving Pasion River from
Sayaxche to Altar de Sacrificios in 18 hours. 
80 river kilometers in 18 hours equates to a mean river speed of 4.5 kilometers per hour. The air distance between Sayaxche and Altar de Sacrificios is 37 kilometers, so in this case Morley and his native boatmen managed 37 straight-line kilometers in 1 very long day day.
In the early part of the 20th century, before paved roads and motorized transport were available in Alta Verapaz, people walked from Guatemala City to San Juan Chamelco (near Coban) in 4 days.
Guatemalans walked from Guatemala City to
San Juan Chamelco, Atla Verapaz in 4 days.
The air distance from Guatemala City to San Juan Chamelco is 93 kilometers. To cover this distance in 4 days, these Guatemalans were traveling at a mean rate of 23.25 straight-line kilometers per day.
Based on known travel times from ethnographic sources, Richard E.W. Adams estimated that people in ancient Guatemala traveled on foot unladen from Coban to Sayaxche on the Pasion River in 8 days.
Coban to Sayaxche on the Pasion Rier in 8 days.
From Coban to Sayaxche is 119 air kilometers. To traverse this distance in 8 days, a person would travel at a mean rate of 14.875 straight-line kilometers per day. Some observers claim the natives traversed this route in 5 or 6 days. To travel 119 air kilometers in 5 days, a person would move at a mean rate of 23.8 straight-line kilometers per day. The 6-day trip would mean 19.83 kilometers per day. 
The same source estimated that people went from Sayaxche to Tikal in 3 - 4 days.
Sayaxche to Tikal in 3 or 4 days.
97 air kilometers separate Sayaxche from Tikal. In order to cover this distance in 3 days, a person would travel at the mean rate of 32.33 straight-line kilometers per day. To cover this distance in the more conservative 4 days, a person would move at the rate of 24.25 straight-line kilometers per day.
Canoes from the coastal trade route around the Yucatan Peninsula could easily travel across Lake Izabal in eastern Guatemala and from there up the Polochic and Cahabon Rivers. One of these trading vessels went the 60 lake and river kilometers from El Estor to Cahaboncito in 2 days.
A canoe traveled from El Estor on Lake Izabal up the Polochic
and Cahabon Rivers to Cahaboncito in 2 days. 
This is a 60 kilometer trip across the lake and upstream on the rivers. Going 60 kilometers in 2 days is a mean travel rate of 30 kilometers per day which is very close to the 3 kilometer per hour estimate Sylvanus G. Morley calculated for travel upstream on a slow moving river. Since the air distance is only 24.85 kilometers, the straight-line travel speed was 12.425 kilometers per day.
In order to reach the important Maya site of Uaxactun, an archaeological expedition traveled up the Belize River to the head of navigation at El Cayo (modern-day San Ignacio) and then went overland through the Peten jungle with pack trains. In 4 days they traveled 128 trail kilometers or 64 air kilometers. Human porters would have traversed this wild terrain much faster.
Overland from El Cayo (San Ignacio) Belize through the Peten
to Uaxactun, Guatemala in 4 days.
This expedition traveled 64 air kilometers in 4 days at a mean travel rate of 16 straight-line kilometers per day.
There is a great deal more travel literature from this area we could mine for data, but we have 18 cases to analyze and that will allow us to draw some conclusions.This map shows the 18 known historical journeys we will use in our baseline data set.
18 known historical journeys using only human or animal motive power
throughout southern Mesoamerica from 378 AD to the 1930's.
Plotting the data from these 18 journeys in a spreadsheet facilitates some calculations that will help us frame the discussion about Book of Mormon journeys in an appropriate context. The rows highlighted in blue were travels on water. The others were primarily overland. Click on the image to enlarge it to full-size (this works for any image in this blog).
Analysis of 18 pre-industrial journeys (some with variants)
in southern Mesoamerica.
Some things we know about pre-motorized travel in this area:
  • Many routes combined overland and river or lake travel.
  • Travel on water was generally faster than travel overland.
  • Small groups traveled faster than large groups.
  • Humans traveled faster than pack animals.
  • Humans travelling with animals often left drovers and herders behind with the animals while they went on ahead and arrived at the destination before their flocks and herds.
  • Unladen pedestrians traveled faster than porters or heavily-laden merchants.
  • 3 - 4 trail kilometers per hour was typical of unladen pedestrian travel in mountainous highlands or  tropical lowland savannas.
  • 2.5 - 3 trail kilometers per hour was typical of unladen pedestrian travel through dense jungle.
  • 2.3 trail kilometers per hour was typical of Guatemalan tumpline porters carrying 25 kilogram (55 pound) burdens.
  • Travel through mangrove swamps, quicksand, or muddy wetlands was very slow and difficult.
  • It was only practical to travel along many routes in the dry season.
  • Canoes were both paddled and poled (propelled forward by long poles pushed against the river bottom).
  • 3 river-kilometers-per-hour was typical of canoe travel upstream on a slow-moving river.
  • Canoe travel upstream was practically impossible on a fast-moving river.
  • 4 - 10 river-kilometers-per-hour was typical of canoe travel downstream depending on water depth and current speed.
  • River travel often required portages around rapids and falls.
  • Heavily-laden canoes traveled slower than lighter craft, especially upstream.
  • A canoe with multiple paddlers (or polers) traveled faster than the same canoe with a solo paddler.
  • Canoes were often stationed permanently as a shared public resource at places where trails crossed large rivers
  • Some river crossings were spanned by simple rope bridges. 
  • 7 - 10 hours per day was a typical travel regimen for long trips. Grueling 10+ hour days were possible for short periods of time. 
  • Air (straight-line) kilometers are always shorter than trail or river kilometers. The sinuosity of the path determines the relative difference. A sinuosity factor of 1.4 or less is a relatively straight path.
Taking all of the preceding into account, we can say with confidence that 10 air (straight-line) kilometers per day are on the low end of what we would reasonably expect from Book of Mormon journeys. 15 air kilometers per day are probably typical of Book of Mormon travels led by well-informed guides, and 20 air kilometers per day (or more) are not unreasonable. All bets are off, of course, when Book of Mormon groups are wandering around lost in the wilderness.
As an additional reality check, let's control our Book of Mormon travel rate numbers derived through inductive reasoning  by comparing them with a series of well-documented, pre-industrial journeys - the 10 iconic Mormon Handcart Pioneer treks.
Analysis of 10 well-known, human-powered journeys
The fastest trek averaged over 20 air kilometers per day, the slowest just under 14. The slowest trek was the ill-fated Martin company that suffered a 25% casualty rate en route.
Yet another reality check comes from the well-documented march of the 5th Virginia Infantry Regiment who left from Camp Paxton, south of Fredericksburg, Virginia on June 4, 1863 and arrived in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 1, 1863.
March of the 5th Virginia Infantry Regiment June, 1863
This Civil War force of 345 fighting men plus their camp followers traveled 371 point-to-point air kilometers in 28 days for an average speed of 13.25 air kilometers per day. They fought 2 battles en route, the 2nd Battle of Winchester July 13 - 15, and the Battle of Stephenson's Depot July 15, 1863. Their longest single day march was 54 air kilometers from Sharpsburg, Maryland to Chambersburg, Pennyslvania. After this extreme exertion, they rested for 2 days.They had 2 five-day rest stops en route, June 6th - 10th in Culpeper, Virginia and June 18th - 22nd in Sharpsburg, Maryland. They also had 1 four-day rest stop, June 26th - 29th in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. This was not a mad dash. The 5th Virginia was taking orders from General Robert E. Lee whose original objective was Harrisburg, capital of Pennsylvania, but who ended up massing the various elements of his Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg in what would become the largest battle ever fought (158,000 combatants) on North American soil in modern times.
Our theorized Book of Mormon travel rate, 15 air (straight-line) kilometers per day, is  right in the sweet spot of our various data sets, reasonable and defensible from any number of perspectives. For additional validation, see the blog article "Benjamin Cluff Expedition Route & Distances." 15 air kilometers is very close to the distance the precontact Rabinal in highland Guatemala called "one day's journey." See points 154 & 155 in the blog article "Rabinal Achi." The blog article "Quichean Distance Measurement" brings together several data points that document the meaning of "one day's journey" (15 - 16 air kilometers) in the Quichean parlance of highland Guatemala. Richard Hansen describes El Mirador as 50 trail kilometers or 36 air kilometers from the nearest town, reachable via helicopter or on foot after walking for 3 days. This means contemporary archaeologists with pack animals in the northern Peten average about 12 air kilometers per day. See the article "Hansen and Coe." In their 2009 Ancient Mesoamerica article on polities entitled "States and Empires in Ancient Mesoamerica,"Arlen F. Chase, Diane Z. Chase, and Michael E. Smith conclude that Maya armies in march typically travelled about 20 air kilometers per day. An exceptional AD 659 journey in the Palenque area is documented in the article "Palenque." It supports our 15 air kilometers per day rule of thumb distance derivation. Similar support comes from an article entitled "The Raccoon Glyph in Classic Maya Writing" by Marc Zender in Pari Journal Vol. 5 No. 4 (2005). Zender reads a text from Lintel 2 of Tikal Temple IV as a description of an AD 744 attack by Tikal on Naranjo. It took 2 days for the Tikal force to reach a staging point near Naranjo from which they launched a dawn raid. The distance from Tikal to Naranjo is 36 air kilometers. The staging point would have been slightly closer. This is yet another corroboration of our 15 - 16 air kilometers/day derived distance value. Andrew K. Scherer, on September 21, 2019 in a presentation to the Maya Society of Minnesota, reported that it takes one day to walk from Yaxchilan to La Pasadita, a perimeter site within the greater Yaxchilan polity. The distance from Yaxchilan to La Pasadita is 15 air kilometers.   For an analysis of all instances of the Book of Mormon standard unit of distance measure, see the article "Test #6 Relative Distances."
To download much of this data for your own analysis, see the blog article "Google Earth Downloads".
This article last updated September 29, 2019