Xcambó, the earliest trading port in Yucatán

Xcambó is the first commercial port found for the Classic Maya, and to date, no other site with these characteristics has been found anywhere else.

Xcambó, the earliest trading port in Yucatán
Photo by Ronan Furuta / Unsplash

The Mayan site Xcambó was an important commercial port during the Early Classic period (200-600 A.D.), during which time it was part of the infrastructure of the city of Izamal, the leading city in the north of what is now Yucatan.  During this period, it maintained strong contact with sites in central and northwestern Yucatan, northern Quintana Roo, as well as with the Petén of Campeche and Guatemala.

Maybe it was an intermediary port between Izamal and Teotihuacan. These questions are supported by the variety of materials and architectural styles found in Xcambó. "Xcambó is the first commercial port found for the Classic Maya, we have not located to date, in any other place, a site with these characteristics", noted archaeologist Thelma Sierra of the INAH Yucatán Center.

In spite of the fall of Izamal, in the Late Classic (600-900 A.D.), Xcambó was able to maintain itself as an independent commercial port due to the control it had of the salt mines and the exploitation of maritime resources, so it reoriented its relations towards the Gulf Coast.

However, the apogee of other cities (such as those of the Puuc Route, Ek' Balam, Dzibilchaltún, and Chichén Itzá), during the Late Classic and Early Postclassic periods, provoked the emergence of other trade ports such as Isla Cerritos. This caused Xcambó to become isolated, which imminently led to its gradual deterioration.

Nevertheless, Xcambó became a pilgrimage site. It is even a sanctuary to this day due to the apparition of the Virgin of Xcambó, an image found in a nearby waterhole in the middle of the 20th century, and to which a chapel was built within the site.

Source: INAH Yucatán Center