The Classic Maya civilization that thrived in Central America between A.D. 300 and 900 developed sophisticated city-states, hieroglyphic literacy, exquisite ceramics, and the most advanced mathematics and astronomy in the New World. The one ingredient they were short on was salt. Basic to human existence, salt was scarce in the tropical rainforests of modern Belize and Guatemala. Now Dr. Heather McKillop (Louisiana State University), former Earthwatch principal investigator of Maya Traders, has published a new book on salt trade in the Late Classic Maya of coastal Belize, with important implications for the development and collapse of Maya civilization.
Salt: White Gold of the Ancient Maya describes the discovery and excavation of salt works at Punta Ycacos Lagoon, Belize, achieved with the support of Earthwatch teams in the late 1990s, in the broader context of Late Classic Maya civilization. In her book, McKillop shows that the Maya produced salt by boiling brine in pots over fires at specialized workshops, transforming current thinking about Maya craft specialization. The existence of the coastal salt works illustrates that important production efforts occurred away from the economic and political power of urban Maya rulers, providing new clues to the Maya sea trade. Salt: White Gold of the Ancient Maya is a fascinating exploration of ancient economies and a critical addition to the library of any Mayanist.
Salt: White Gold of the Ancient Maya. Heather McKillop. University of Florida Press, 2002.