Salt Kitchens Researched in Belize Reveals New Evidence on Maya Trade

November 27, 2021

Heather McKillop, an anthropologist at Louisiana State University, and co-author Kazuo Aoyama, an anthropologist at Japan’s Ibaraki University, have used microscopic analysis  of 20 stone tools found in Belize at the site of Paynes Creek Salt Works and found the tools were used to chop up meat and fish. And the meat was prepared at ancient salt kitchens. It shows the Maya were producing salt in large quantities, and using salt to preserve food.The site is near a coastal lagoon with saline waters due to solar evaporation.

The team found 4,000 wooden posts that denote a series of salt kitchens. The wood is preserved in the peat soil at the site and dates to 300-900 CE. Pottery vessels at the site reveal that workers were boiling brine in pots, and collecting salt from the evaporated brine. Salt pots from three of the Paynes Creek salt kitchens seem to be standardized in dimension, suggesting that workers were packing the salt into cakes and shipping them off to be traded inland.

This new research dispels a misconception  that the Maya of Belize’s southern lowlands had to import salt from the Yucatan Peninsula because there were no salt resources nearby. On the contrary, McKillop tells Cohen, “the coastal Maya were an integral part of the Mayan economy because they produced and traded a basic commodity.

The research is published in PNAS,

Smithsonian has the report here;

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