Maya Breakthrough as Amazing Underwater Discovery Solves 1,000-Year-Old Mystery | Sciences | New
Heather McKillop, with her LSU research team, searched salt kitchens where brine was boiled in clay pots over fires in post and thatched buildings. The Mayans built stone temples and palaces in rainforests all over Central America and had stunning stone carvings of their royal rulers. But the Mayans in these areas did not have access to one of the most basic commodities – salt.
As the sources of salt are mostly found along the coast, including the salt marshes on the Yucatan coast and the Belize coast, researchers have in the past been puzzled as to how the inland Mayans maintain a supply of salt.
But now, the underwater discoveries of Ms. Mckillop and her research team have revealed how Mayan salt workers provided the staple food product to cities in the interior during the classical Mayan civilization.
Ms McKillop and LSU alumnus Cory Sills, an associate professor at Texas-Tyler University, unlocked this with the help of funding from the National Science Foundation.
Although fieldwork at Ek Way Nal, where the Paynes Creek salt flats are located, has been postponed since March 2020 due to the pandemic, researchers have turned to material previously used for the study in the lab. archeology of LSU.
It includes hundreds of wood samples from pole and thatch buildings, as well as pottery shards.
Ms McKillop, Professor Thomas & Lillian Landrum Alumni in LSU’s Department of Geography and Anthropology, said: t dry out and deteriorate.
“I decided to submit a sample of wood pole for radiocarbon dating of each building to Ek Way Nal to see if they all dated from the same time, which was suggested by the visibility of the artifacts and buildings. on the seabed. “
Ms. McKillop discovered a sequence of building construction that began at the end of the Classical period at the height of Mayan civilization and continued through to Classical Terminal when the power of rulers of the city-states of the interior was diminishing.
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The cities were finally abandoned around 900 AD.
Ms. McKillop said: “Using the well-studied site, Sacapulas, Guatemala, as a model, has worked well to develop archaeological expectations for different activities for boiling brine in a salt kitchen, a residence and other activities, including salting fish.
The researchers reported a three-part building construction sequence with salt kitchens, at least one residence, and an outdoor area where the fish were salted and dried.
Their strategy of radiocarbon dating each building revealed a clearer timeline for Ek Way Nal which they are now using for more sites.
Ms. McKillop’s discovery now gives more substance to her estimate that 10 salt kitchens were in production at a time at Paynes Creek Salt Works, which she reported in her book “Maya Salt Works”.
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She said, “The research underscores the importance of radiocarbon dating of every pole and stubble in the salt flats in order to assess the productive capacity of this food necessity.
“The research also shows the value of individual mapping of artifacts and poles on the seabed at underwater sites in order to interpret building use.”
Ms. Mckillop’s report, “Brickwork and Brine: Living and Working in the Ek Way Nal Salt Pans, Belize,” was published in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica.