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Still Waters

Archaeologist investigates legend of mythical

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Long before the Spanish arrived in Peru in 1530 and brought with them a written language with which to record history, legends about ancient Peru were passed down through generations by oral “historians” who were trained to flawlessly recount these stories of mythical heroes and villains.

Among the most colorful of these stories was the legend of Naymlap, the fearless founder of a centuries-old dynasty that supposedly ruled the Lambayeque Valley in northern Peru.

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post-86645-0-65823800-1333546587_thumb.j < Beautiful depiction of Naymlap.

Pardon a related topic excursion?? .. The legend of Naymlap arriving on a balsa raft got my attention.. i've been trying to learn about Guara.

Guara are sort of keel boards inserted at points between the balsa logs which steer and maintain the raft on a course or are even capable of propelling a craft INTO the wind by , at times, acting as a water current sail. Yes, water current sail. The Chinese have used similar keel boards and such are still in use in Taiwan and adjoining areas. In those areas Bamboo Logs are used instead of balsa. These guara boards were held in such esteem by some peruvians that they were buried with them. It's very interesting and this site explains their function fairly well.

Guara boards

We also were able to carry out some very interesting experiments with the use of the guara boards, testing the speed and steering limitations of the ancient balsa raft. Our experience at sea convinced us that the craftsmen who made such rafts probably could have gone very far in such vessels, without ever being concerned about the possibility of sinking.

To maintain control of the raft, you need large sails, along with the knowledge of how to handle them. We used sails that were three times larger than those on Kon-Tiki. The idealized sketches [illustrating this article] show how the Tangaroa was equipped with several keels. In Peru they call these keels "guaras".

They are boards, about 12-feet in length, a couple of inches thick, and about 20 inches wide. They're made of heavy and durable wood. These boards have holes drilled through them spaced several centimeters apart, starting from the top and extending about half way down, through which wooden pins can be inserted. The pins are about a foot long with a two-inch diameter. The boards serve as a sort of rudder to steer the raft. They are constructed so that they can slide into specific slots between the bamboo floor and the balsa hull logs. These boards provide a surface area, which offer some resistance in the water beneath the vessel.

The Kon-Tiki raft was equipped with four such centerboards but they were "fixed" and could not be raised or lowered. However, the whole point of this clever invention is to raise or lower the boards depending upon the winds and currents. When the wind is constant, the direction and course of the vessel can be changed if you move the boards to a higher or lower position. For example, if you raise one of them 20 centimeters, the course can change 20 degrees. So by lifting them up and down, we learned how to steer the raft the way ancient man did. We discovered that we could even steer directly into the wind.

Apparently, Heyerdahl had not seen sketches to understand that the crew had to raise these guara boards up and down. At least that's what he wrote in "American Indians". He mentions there that if he had known how to steer the raft with centerboards, he would never have smashed into the reef off the island of Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands when they reached their destination in August 1947.

Kon-Tiki also had a steering oar, but it wasn't very functional. Consequently, the Kon-Tiki was largely subject to the whim of wind and currents because they didn't know how to sail it directly into the wind.

Vital Alsar, who organized the expedition of La Balsa raft, used guara boards on his raft in 1970 - the craft he used to sail between Peru all the way to Australia. By then it was understood how to use them.

Our use of the guara on the Tangaroa is based on Heyerdahl's observations that he made after completing his expedition of the Kon-Tiki. In 1953, he carried out an experiment in Ecuador with a small raft using the guara to understand how this mechanism worked. He wrote about the dexterity of the centerboards in several of his books, including "Early Man and the Ocean" (1978).

Have a look at the similarity of the Peruvian birdman depictions on this bead....


And the Easter Island birdman


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Posted (edited)

Interesting stuff, Lightly.

I have always thought that this "Naymlap" could have come from ancient Mexico, and just now I found this:

An MIT doctoral candidate and her colleagues may have solved the mystery of why a specific style of ancient metalwork appears in South America and in western Mexico, but nowhere in between. Leslie Dewan contends Ecuadorean traders a thousand years ago sailed regularly to western Mexico and back ~ a round trip of 3,800 miles ~ on sail-bearing balsa rafts.


Dewans team also evaluated the role of wind and water currents, concluding that the traders may have spent a few months in Mexico and returned when currents shifted. Meanwhile, her team is preparing to construct an actual-size model for the trip from Ecuador to Mexico, as they theorize it was done 1,300 years ago.

Ancient Traders Sailed the South American Seas

Ancient Watercraft Design Analysis

The Manteño Expedition


Edited by Abramelin

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thanks Abramelin, .. interesting links. this from one> "All the rafts we've built have used 'the guara system'. This is the original steering method used by the ancient Manteño. It is a matrix of long boards, pushed down through the logs and into the water, and you can think of it as a primitive autopilot: If you deploy these boards in a particular pattern, the raft will steer on a particular course, sometimes for miles at a time. If you then raise one of these guaras a few feet - changing the pattern - the raft will turn and sail on a new course, again, sometimes for miles at a time without any adjustment."

Anyway, i want to learn a bit more about 'guara' and very similar being used in S.E. Asian waters for a very long time. .. And their use as Water Current Sails. ! Who knows what sort of hybrid sailing craft peoples might have come up with?

... maybe they had swift ,guara equipped, bamboo catamarans wizzing around :w00t:

Naymlap from "Mexico" ? I did read , in the link below , that local legend says he came from the North, with a fleet of balsa rafts .. so, sounds like your probably right!

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From Mexico, yes. Not impossible:

Some similarities between the Mesoamerican and the Andean cultures suggest that the two regions became a part of a wider world system, as a result of trade, by the 1st millennium BCE. The current academic view is that the flow of goods across the Andean slopes was controlled by institutions distributing locations to local groups, who were then free to access them for trading. This trade across the Andean slopes - described sometimes as "vertical trade" - may have overshadowed the long distance trade between the people of the Andes and the neighboring forests.[30] The Callawaya herbalists traded in tropical plants between 6th and the 10th centuries, while copper was dealt by specialized merchants in the Peruvian valley of Chincha.Long distance trade may have seen local elites resorting to struggle in order for manipulation and control.

Prior to the Inca dominance, specialized long distance merchants provided the highlanders with goods such as gold nuggets, copper hatches, cocoa, salt etc. for redistribution among the locals, and were key players in the politics of the region.[31] Hatchet shaped copper currency was produced by the Peruvian people, in order to obtain valuables from pre Columbian Ecuador. A maritime exchange system stretched from the west coast of Mexico to southernmost Peru, trading mostly in Spondylus, which represented rain, fertility and was considered the principal food of the gods by the people of the Inca empire.

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