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Floating a big idea: MIT demos ancient use of rafts to transport goods
Date:3/19/2008

r construction, those replicas were allowed to sit near shore for weeks before the test voyages. That's where the shipworms live, Dewan said. One way to avoid that is to minimize the amount of time spent in harbor.

Dewan and Hosler did a simulation of the amount of time it would take for shipworms to eat one of the rafts and concluded that with proper precautions, it would be possible to make two round-trip voyages from Peru to western Mexico before the raft would need replacing.

The voyages likely took six to eight weeks, and the trade winds only permit the voyages during certain seasons of the year, so the travelers probably stayed at their destination for six months to a year each trip, Dewan and Hosler concluded. That would have been enough time to transfer the detailed knowledge of specific metalworking techniques that Hosler had found in her earlier research.

While Hosler's earlier work had shown a strong likelihood that there had been contact between the Andean and Mexican civilizations, it took the details of this new engineering analysis to establish that maritime trade between the two regions could indeed have taken place using the balsa rafts. We showed from an engineering standpoint that this trip was feasible, Dewan said. Her analysis showed that the ancient rafts likely had a cargo capacity of 10 to 30 tons-about the same capacity as the barges on the Erie canal that were once a mainstay of trade in the northeastern United States.

Hosler said the analysis is the first paper of its kind to use modern engineering analysis to determine design parameters and constraints of an ancient watercraft and thus prove the feasibility of a particular kind of ancient trade in the New World. And for Dewan, it was an exciting departure from her primary academic work. I just loved working on this project, she said, being able to apply the mechanical engineering principles I've learned to a project like this, that seems pretty far out
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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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