The recent discovery of ancient salt kitchens, found underwater in a national park in Belize, is giving archaeologists new insight into the role of salt in the Maya economy.
In a study published in antiquity Last week, anthropologists Heather McKillop and E. Cory Sills of Louisiana State University documented four underwater pole and thatch structures — three kitchens and a residence — in Paynes Creek National Park.
All four structures are from Ta’ab Nuk Na, the largest salt complex on Paynes Creek. Assuming that the 10 known salt kitchens in Paynes Creek were active at the same time, they could have provided enough salt for 24,000 people, who used it to preserve and flavor food.
“The workers lived on site, which shows that it was a ‘cottage industry’, with families producing more than they needed [and supplying salt for] the Inner Maya nearby,” McKillop said. art news.
Anaerobic peat trapped in the roots of the mangrove has miraculously allowed the foundation posts of buildings to survive since their construction between 650 and 800 CE.
“Post and thatch structures are common in traditional Maya villages,” the report states, “although the tropical environment (and lack of building foundations) means they are generally archaeologically invisible.”
McKillop has conducted fieldwork on Belize’s south coast since 1982, but began studying Paynes Creek in 2004, the same year she discovered the only known Mayan canoe paddle. As part of the latest discovery, the team also unearthed several types of ceramics, jars for storing brine, millstones for preparing corn, and a broken ocarina (a wind instrument) in the shape of a person.
Daily flotation devices helped them explore and document the site without damaging artifacts embedded in the silt of the seabed. Nearby, they also discovered brickwork pottery, confirming that these buildings were used to make salt, but also that the Maya made their salt by boiling water over a fire.
“It rains a lot in southern Belize, so solar evaporation, like off the northern Yucatan coast, doesn’t work,” McKillop wrote in an email to Artnet News.
Scholars could not determine a date from the brickwork. Instead, they compared the Belizean red pottery uncovered during the search with radiocarbon dating on the wooden poles to confirm that the buildings at Ta’ab Nuk Na were constructed in three phases, primarily during the period. late classic, when excess salt production began in order to serve. a growing population.
The presence of a residential building proves that salt production was based on kinship – Mayan families made what they needed and traded the rest without the intervention of monarchs.
Next April, the team will return with LSU students to explore the area around Ta’ab Nuk Na. “One of the sites has a palette of pottery that we mapped during the survey, so it may be a specialist pottery production site where the Ta’ab Nuk Na Maya obtained their pottery for making of salt,” McKillop told Artnet. A jadeite gouge with a rosewood handle found near Ek Way Nal has raised questions.
They also host the 4th International Congress on the Anthropology of Salt, which opens tomorrow at LSU.
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