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Underwater Archaeology, Salt Production, and Coastal Maya Trade at Stingray Lagoon, Belize

  • Heather McKillop (a1)

Abstract

Ancient sources of salt have been revealed by underwater archaeology along the south coast of Belize. A relative rise in sea level of about 1 m at the end of the Classic period (ca. A. D. 900) submerged ancient Maya settlements and transformed the modern landscape by reducing the amount of available land and by changing the vegetation. The discovery of submerged archaeological sites and their dating by associated ceramics and radiocarbon date determination documents the sea level rise. Salt production by the sal cocida or boiling method at the underwater site of Stingray Lagoon and at other specialized salt production sites provided salt for coastal use and inland transport and diminished the need for long-distance import of this basic human requirement. This paper describes salt-making artifacts as well as salt production. The lack of animal bones at the Stingray Lagoon site where other organic material was preserved indicates that salt was not produced for salt-drying fish. Evidence that salt was obtained from the Belizean coast instead of from the northern Yucatán coast is in line with the view of ancient Maya economy in which basic subsistence resources were produced locally whereas long-distance trade was concentrated on elite or ceremonial resources and goods.

Antiguas fuentes de sal han sido expuestas por medio de estudios de arqueología submarina a lo largo de la costa sur de Belice. Un incremento de aproximadamente un metro (1 m) en el nivel del mar sumergió antiguos pueblos de la civilizacion maya al final del período Clásico (ca. 900 D. C.), transformando la nueva superficie, reduciendo asi la cantidad de tierra disponible, y cambiando la vegetación. El descubrimiento de estos sitios arqueológicos sumergidos, su antigüedad, y su asociación con cerámica y fechas de radiocarbono documentan el mencionado incremento en el nivel del mar. La producción de sal por medio del método de sal cocida o método de ebullición en el sitio sumergido de Stingray Lagoon y otros lugares especializados en la producción de sal abasteció a pueblos costeros y dentro de la isla, disminuyendo así la importación de este básico requisito humano. La producción de sal y artefactos usados para esta tarea han sido descritos. La falta de huesos de animales en Stingray Lagoon donde al mismo tiempo otra materia orgánica fue preservada, indica que la sal no fue producida para el propósito de secar pescado. El adquirir la sal de la costa de Belice y no de la costa norte de Yucatán concuerda con el punto de vista económico de la antigua civilización maya, en el cual los productos para la subsistencia básica eran obtenidos de lugares cercanos, y sólo mercadería para personas de la clase alta y productos para usos ceremoniales eran traídos de lugares más retirados.

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Latin American Antiquity
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