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Maya Salt Works

Heather McKillop

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“An excellent, highly informative book. The data and interpretations in this pathbreaking volume on pre-Columbian Maya salt manufacture and trade should appeal to a wide range of audiences.”—Jeremy A. Sabloff, author of Archaeology Matters: Action Archaeology in the Modern World  
 
“The discovery of coastal salt production sites opens a new and nuanced window into the complexity of ancient Maya economics. McKillop’s methodological innovations create new opportunities for discovery along the entirety of the Central American coasts.”—Thomas H. Guderjan, coeditor of The Value of Things: Prehistoric to Contemporary Commodities in the Maya Region  
 
In Maya Salt Works, Heather McKillop details her archaeological team’s groundbreaking discovery of a unique and massive salt production complex submerged in a lagoon in southern Belize. Exploring the organization of production and trade at the Paynes Creek Salt Works, McKillop offers a fascinating new look at the role of salt in the ancient Maya economy.  
 
McKillop maps over 4,000 wooden posts and wedges, the first known wooden structures preserved underwater from the Classic period, describing new methods of underwater archaeology developed specifically for this shallow maritime setting. She explains the technology of salt production, examining fragments of briquetage—the pots that boiled brine over fires in the kitchens—and provides evidence that salt workers relied on specific types of wood for building construction. McKillop theorizes that different households operated salt kitchens and distributed their goods via canoe to sell at inland marketplaces for use as dietary salt, a flavor enhancer, and preservative. Complex distribution networks reveal expertise in water transportation and knowledge of the sea by Maya mariners, skills that allowed them to control the transport of commodities like salt.  
 
By evaluating the scale, concentration, intensity, and context of the Paynes Creek Salt Works, McKillop provides a model for interpreting existing salt works sites as well as future discoveries along the Yucatán Peninsula.  
 
Heather McKillop is Thomas and Lillian Landrum Alumni Professor in the Department of Geography and Anthropology at Louisiana State University. She is the author of The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives; In Search of Maya Sea Traders; and Salt: White Gold of the Ancient Maya.  
 
A volume in the series Maya Studies, edited by Diane Z. Chase and Arlen F. Chase
 
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