In oxygen-free sediment preserved beneath the ocean floor near Belize, archaeologists have discovered the remnants of salt kitchens built by ancient Maya people to boil brine for use in food and preservation. As reported in a paper titled “Briquetage and Brine: Living and Working at the Classic Maya Salt Works of Ek Way Nal, Belize” published in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica, Louisiana State University archaeologist Heather McKillop and Cory Sills, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Tyler, surmised that remnants of residences nearby played home to Maya people who worked in the kitchens to send salt to inland cities.
While field work near what’s known as the Paynes Creek Saltworks remains postponed because the pandemic, the researchers tested samples of wooden posts and building parts as well as broken pieces of pottery at the LSU Archaeology lab and put together a timeline during which the saltworks and residences were created up until around 900 B.C.E.
“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,” McKillop said in a report issued by the LSU Media Center.
Results from radiocarbon dating point to the creation in different stages of the salt kitchens, residential dwellings, and outdoor areas where fish were salted for curing. “The research underscores the importance of radiocarbon dating each pole and thatch building at the salt works in order to evaluate production capacity of this dietary necessity,” McKillop added.