A 1,000-year-old enigma is answered by an extraordinary underwater discovery, resulting in a Maya breakthrough.


A 1,000-year-old enigma is answered by an extraordinary underwater discovery, resulting in a Maya breakthrough.

ARCHEOLOGISTS have made an incredible discovery in Belize after recovering the remains of a Mayan salt kitchen from the water.

Heather McKillop and her LSU research team excavated the salt kitchens, which were used to boil brine in clay pots over fires in pole and thatch structures. The Maya built stone temples and palaces in the jungle all throughout Central America, and their royal lords were carved into exquisite stone carvings. However, the Maya in these locations lacked one of the most essential necessities: salt.

Because salt is primarily found along the coast, particularly salt flats on the Yucatan coast and the Belizean coast, experts have previously been baffled as to how the interior Maya keep a supply of salt.

However, undersea discoveries by Ms. Mckillop and her study team have revealed how Maya salt workers provided the fundamental food commodity to inland cities during the Classic Maya civilisation.

With the support of funding from the National Science Foundation, Ms McKillop and LSU graduate Cory Sills, who is an associate professor at University Texas-Tyler, were able to solve this riddle.

Despite the fact that fieldwork at Ek Way Nal, where the Paynes Creek Saltworks is located, has been postponed owing to the pandemic since March 2020, the researchers turned to material already studied in the LSU Archaeology lab.

Hundreds of wood samples from pole and thatch structures, as well as pottery sherds, are included.

“The Archaeology lab looks like a Tupperware party, with hundreds of plastic containers of water, but they are keeping the wood samples wet so they don’t dry out and deteriorate,” said Ms McKillop, the Thomas andamp; Lillian Landrum Alumni Professor in the LSU Department of Geography and Anthropology.

“I decided to submit a wood post sample from each building at Ek Way Nal for radiocarbon dating to check if they all dated to the same time, as the visibility of artefacts and buildings on the seafloor suggested.”

Ms McKillop uncovered a building construction cycle that began in the Late Classic, when Maya civilisation was at its peak, and continued until the Terminal Classic, when inland city-state leaders’ power was waning.

By 900 AD, the cities had been abandoned.

“Using the well-studied site of Sacapulas, Guatemala, as a model, worked well to build archaeological expectations for different,” Ms McKillop said.


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