Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Mayan salt factory, canoe paddle stir archaeologists


Houston Chronicle
By Thomas H. Maugh II
April 23, 2005

A Louisiana archaeologist has discovered the remains of a massive Maya salt-producing complex submerged in a lagoon off the south coast of Belize.

The underwater site also revealed the first wooden structural artifacts from the Maya empire, including wooden poles and beams used in constructing the salt factories.

A wooden paddle from the canoes that were used to distribute the salt over inland waterways also was discovered — the first time such an object has been found.

Archaeologist Heather Mc- Killop of Louisiana State University reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that she and her colleagues have so far discovered 45 separate facilities for salt production in the mangrove peat bogs of Punta Ycacos Lagoon.

"There are many more sites there," she said in an interview.

The discoveries are "tremendously exciting," said archeologist Tom Guderjan of Texas Christian University, who was not involved in the research.

"We have never, in that region of the world, found preservation of architectural materials (wood) like she has found underwater."

The discovery of the paddle is particularly intriguing, he said, because even though Maya pictures show canoes, researchers previously found no traces.

"We've all been looking for the canoe," Guderjan said. Finding a paddle gives hope that a canoe also will surface. "It could be 6 inches under the muck."

Salt played a crucial role in ancient economies because humans needed it to survive and also desired its taste. It also has a variety of secondary uses, such as the preservation of fish.

The cities of the Maya civilization are largely located in areas that have a scarcity of salt.


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