A hot commodity for an expanding empire.
Let’s talk about salt.
It’s a staple in our diets, an age-old preservative, and an additive in countless household products.
On the shores of modern-day Belize, Mayans worked at extensive settlements dedicated to extracting salt from brine.
McKillop et al, Antiquity 2022
Structures at the site date from 600 to 800 AD, at a time when Mayan settlements were growing rapidly and demand for salt was at its highest.
Wooden pieces of the buildings were preserved in mangrove peat, allowing them to stay intact for over a thousand years.
Figurines such as this model boat were also shored up from the excavation.
Salt water was harvested from the ocean, then boiled in clay vessels to harvest the solid product that could be sold inland or used to preserve freshly caught fish.
“The inland Maya needed salt — a basic biological necessity — which was scarce inland and most was supplied from salt works along the coasts.”
Elizabeth Fernandez/Moment/Getty Images
Together with eight other known salt kitchens on the southern coast of Belize, the workers at Ta’ab Nuk Na could have produced enough salt for 24,000 people.
And the residential component of the site is similar to another salt-producing settlement in Belize that came after Ta’ab Nuk Na was no longer inhabited.