White Gold of the Ancient Maya

Heather McKillop

Foreword by Diane and Arlen Chase
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"McKillop has completed a remarkable task in bringing out significant new data concerning ancient Maya salt making. The implications of environmental exploitation, technological development, and economic possibilities provide the opportunity to revisit these issues on more solid ground."--Fred Valdez Jr., University of Texas, Austin

"Long-accepted ideas about Late Classic activities and the role of coastal communities in supporting Late Classic society--even the society of Tikal and the Peten--will now have to change as the result of McKillop’s findings."--Elizabeth Graham, University College London

In Salt: White Gold of the Ancient Maya, Heather McKillop reports the discovery, excavation, and interpretation of Late Classic Maya salt works on the coast of Belize, transforming our knowledge of the Maya salt trade and craft specialization while providing new insights on sea-level rise in the Late Holocene as well.

Salt, basic to human existence, was scarce in the tropical rainforests of Belize and Guatemala, where the Classic Maya civilization thrived between A.D. 300 and 900. The prevailing interpretation has been that salt was imported from the north coast of the Yucatan. However, the underwater discovery and excavation of salt works in Punta Ycacos Lagoon demonstrate that the Maya produced salt by boiling brine in pots over fires at specialized workshops on the Belizean coast. The Punta Ycacos salt works are clear evidence that craft specialization took place in a nondomestic setting and that production occurred away from the economic and political power of the urban Maya rulers, thus providing new clues to the Maya economy and sea trade.

McKillop also presents new data on sea-level rise in the Late Holocene that extend geologists' and geographers' sea-level curves from earlier eras. Likewise, she enters the environmental-versus-cultural debate over the Classic Maya collapse by evaluating the factors that led to the abandonment of the Punta Ycacos salt works at the end of the Classic Period, synonymous with the abandonment of inland Maya cities.

Heather McKillop is associate professor of anthropology at Louisiana State University.

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AAUP Book Design Award - 2003
Choice Outstanding Academic Title - 2003

"This absolutely brilliant book documents the discovery and excavation of prehistoric salt production sites from the late Maya period, roughly 600-900 CE, off the southern coast of Belize… Regardless of background, anyone with an interest in the Maya can enjoy this book… The numerous maps, photographs, and artifact drawings are first-rate--some of the best this reviewer has seen--and add immeasurably to the text. The references are current and provide excellent entry points for those who want to pursue more information on the Maya." - Choice

"McKillop bringsto light a series of archaeological sites that are now situated in but a foot or two of shallow water. Her discoveries have significantly altered our understanding of southern lowland Maya society." " An important work" ; "Anyone interested in Maya culture and society as well as the use of salt in global prehistory and history should purchase this volume for their library."
--Journal of Field Archaeology

"A fascinating exploration of ancient economics and a critical addition to the library of any Mayanist."

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