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SaltWhite Gold of the Ancient Maya$
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Heather McKillop

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780813025117

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813025117.001.0001

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Salt as a Maya Trade Good

Salt as a Maya Trade Good

(p.1) 1 Salt as a Maya Trade Good

Heather Mckillop

University Press of Florida

Salt is basic to daily human existence, however, in the southern Maya lowlands of Guatemala and Belize, salt was scarce. The prevailing theory suggests that salt was imported from the northern part of the Yucatan wherein several theorists alleged that the limited capability to transport bulk and huge amounts of good contributed to a scarcity of salt in the southern lowlands of Maya and Belize. However, recent fieldwork has showed a closer salt source than those in the northern Yucatan, casting a question on the viability of salt importation from the northern Yucatan to the southern Maya lowlands during the Late Classic civilization. This chapter discusses salt production in the Belize area which reduced or replaced the long-distance salt importation in the northern Yucatan and which made the lowland Maya politically and economically autonomous from the reigns of the inland Maya cities. With the discovery of the salt-production equipment and the Punta Ycacos salt works, this chapter aims to reevaluate the Late Classic Maya civilization, economy, and environment. While looking at salt production and the salt trade in the southern Maya lowlands, the chapter seeks to probe into the role of the environment in affecting cultural change. The following questions are sought to be answered in this chapter. These are: What was the response of the Late Classic Maya to the rising seas? Were communities abandoned with the rise of the threat of sea-level rise? What were the preventive measures taken by the Maya civilization to address sea-level rise? Did anthropogenic soil buildup from centuries of human garbage keep some communities above sea level?

Keywords:   salt, Belize, Punta Ycacos, salt works, Classic Maya civilization, sea-level rise, salt trade, salt production

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