Printer Friendly

Ancient Maya trade: tracing salty swaps.

Underwater excavations off the coast of Belize have uncovered a site where the Classic-era Maya produced salt from seawater more than 1,000 years ago, both for local use and as a valued item for trade with nearby communities.

"What we're seeing is evidence of regional trade of salt from coastal to inland sites in southeastern Belize," says project director Heather McKillop of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. "This shows that there has been an over-emphasis [by scientists] on long-distance trade in Classic Maya civilization."

McKillop described the ongoing research last week in Washington, D.C., at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association.

The discovery of short-range salt trading by the Maya during the Classic period, which extended from around A.D. 250 to A.D. 900, occurs as other investigators explore the remnants of mountain settlements where the Maya simultaneously exploited various minerals to support another regional trading network (SN: 8/7/93, p.84).

Classic Maya towns clustered in the lowlands of Central America, where salt proves difficult to obtain, McKillop notes. The closet salt flats lie in northern Yucatan, several hundred miles away from ancient Maya cities. Coastal Belize offered easier access and thus stoked interest in extracting salt from seawater, she asserts.

Ironically, water now covers several Classic-era salt-production sites. Geological surveys of the coast along Belize have documented a dramatic rise in sea level that occurred in the last 100 years of the Classic period, coinciding with the abandonment of many coastal settlements, according to McKillop.

Underwater surveys located one such outpost known as Stingray Lagoon, in 1991. Excavations conducted through this year have yielded numerous well-preserved items once used in salt production, McKillop reports. Inhabitants of Stingray Lagoon apparently boiled seawater in large, thick-walled open bowls, each of which sat on three bolts embedded in a clay base. Numerous examples of all these artifacts emerged from the site, the Louisiana anthropologist says.

Investigators also found abundant pieces of charcoal and the remains of a hearth, clear signs of extensive fire use.

Many ceramic artifacts at Stringray Lagoon, such as pots bearing distinctive stamped designs and figurine whistles, apparently came from inland communities that traded with the salt producers, McKillop holds.

Salt probably left the site in bulk quantities, she adds. The lack of fish bones at Stingray Lagoon indicates residents did not use salt to dry fish for transport elsewhere.

Several additional underwater Maya sites in the vicinity of Stingray Lagoon show signs of less intensive salt production, McKillop says. One of them, known as Wild Cane, Cay, has also yielded obsidian objects and other items intended for elite groups. That settlement may have served as one bulb for regional trade routes, she suggests.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Science Service, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:evidence of regional salt trade in southeastern Belize
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 27, 1993
Previous Article:Agent from the sea has antitumor properties.
Next Article:Minor climate change can unravel a forest.

Related Articles
Late Maya culture gets an island lift.
How Maya culture withstood colonial force.
Maya mountain towns found in Belize.
Ups and downs of Yucatan Maya.
Sacred secrets of the caves.
Openings to the underworld: the ancient Maya may have dug caves with spiritual abandon.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters