March 28, 2021

Ancient Maya Used Salt Cakes as Money, New Research Suggests

Researcher Heather McKillop has found proof in an ancient 2,500 year old mural at the Maya site of Calakmul, in the Yucatan, that the Maya used salt cakes wrapped in leaves being sold at a marketplace by a salt vendor. Mckillop and her team discovered the first ancient Maya salt kitchens of pole and thatch submerged in a saltwater lagoon in Belize in 2004..

They have mapped 70 sites in the Paynes Creek Salt Works in a mangrove forest in Belize. They found 4,042 submerged architectural wooden posts, a canoe, an oar, a high-quality jadeite tool, stone tools used to salt fish and meat and hundreds of pieces of pottery. They were making a surplus of these salt cakes for trade by canoes up rivers. They were making these in pots in standardized units.

Her paper was published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.
Heather McKillop. 2021. Salt as a commodity or money in the Classic Maya economy. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 62: 101277; doi: 10.1016/j.jaa.2021.101277

Sci-News has the story here with the mural: