Flooded Ancient Maya Salt Works, Paynes Creek National Park, Belize

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

The session discusses research at the Paynes Creek Salt Works, as well as comparisons with other ancient Maya salt works. Excavations and sediment coring carried out between 2009 and 2015 investigated the nature of the Classic period (A.D. 300-900) salt industry that used wooden buildings preserved below the sea floor in a shallow, salt-water coastal lagoon. Salt was produced by evaporating brine in pots over fires as indicated by briquetage, the remains of pottery vessels and supports used in the salt production. Ten underwater salt works were selected for transect excavations. Land sites with earthen mounds were excavated to evaluate their role in the salt industry. Sediment coring, as well as collection of marine sediment from underwater excavations focused on the timing and rate of sea-level rise. Remote sensing using an automated research vessel, as well as air photography from a drone augmented the systematic flotation survey on Research Flotation Devices (RFDs). The Paynes Creek Salt Works, with evidence of infrastructure of production and distribution, provide a model for other salt works along the coast that lack preserved wood, as well as expanding the types of salt production known from inland and coastal salt works.

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  • Documents (11)

  • Analysis of Marine Sediment of Ancient Maya Saltworks in Paynes Creek National Park, Southern Belize. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Roberto Rosado Ramirez. Heather McKillop. E. Cory Sills.

    In this paper we present the results of archaeological research at two Classic period Maya salt works currently submerged in a shallow salt-water lagoon in Paynes Creek National Park, Southern Belize. These two contexts are part of the more than 100 locations so far identified in the area where salt was produced by boiling brine over fires near wooden structures. Through the study of marine sediment recovered at excavations from sites 24 and 35, we were able to document environmental and...

  • Analysis of Marine Sediment to Explain Sea-level Rise in Paynes Creek National Park, Belize (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kurt Dilores. Heather McKillop.

    Archaeological research in Paynes Creek National Park, Belize provides insight into environmental changes over time. Sea-level rise has affected coastal Maya settlements during both the Classic and Postclassic Periods. Marine sediment samples from five submerged Classic Period Maya sites were exported under permit to the Archaeology lab at Louisiana State University where the samples were analyzed using loss-on ignition and microscopic sorting. The results from loss-on ignition as well as...

  • Ancient Maya Salt Making Activities as Revealed Through Underwater Excavations and Sediment Chemistry, Paynes Creek National Park, Belize (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only E. Cory Sills. Heather McKillop. Christian Wells.

    Underwater excavations at Early Classic Chan b’i (A.D. 300-600) and Late Classic Atz’aam Na (A.D. 600-900) ancient Maya salt works in Paynes Creek National Park, Belize, reveal activity areas associated with a substantial salt industry for distribution to the southern Maya inland inhabitants. At these sites, wooden architecture and salt making artifacts are abundantly preserved in a peat bog composed of red mangrove. We describe the excavation methods at this shallow, submerged underwater site,...

  • Attractive Salt: What the magnetic susceptibility and stratigraphy of the Witz Naab and Killer Bee mounds reveal about ancient Maya salt production and economy. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rachel Watson. Heather McKillop. Brooks Ellwood.

    Witz Naab and Killer Bee contain some of the last remaining above-ground mounds of a once-thriving salt industry in Punta Ycacos Lagoon, a large salt-water system in Paynes Creek National Park, Belize. Documented sea-level rise during the Terminal Classic has submerged the once thriving Classic period (A.D. 300-900) Maya salt works. Excavations and magnetic susceptibility were conducted as part of the author’s dissertation research at Louisiana State University (LSU). This excavation is part of...

  • Ethnoarchaeology, Domesticity, and Place Making among the Maya (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Virginia Ochoa-Winemiller.

    Using an ethnoarchaeological approach, this paper explores the nature of the domestic built environment of rural Yucatan. Data from four Maya communities is used to assess the various mechanisms involved in the design and use of household architecture and test the assumption of cultural continuity in Maya housing from the ancient past to modern times. Geographic Information system-based analysis revealed spatial variations in number, shape, and construction materials of structures. Assessment of...

  • Inland, Urban vs. Coastal, Rural Salt Production in the Southern Maya Lowlands: The View from Salinas de los Nueve Cerros (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Brent Woodfill.

    Salinas de los Nueve Cerros is the only non-coastal salt source in the Maya lowlands. For over two millennia, Nueve Cerros’ residents produced massive quantities of salt that was commercialized throughout the western Maya world. Unlike the Caribbean saltworks, the salt here was contained within a large urban zone. The saltworks used a variety of techniques to make the finished product, boiling brine and leaching salt-laden soils as in Paynes Creek but also scraping the salt flats. Each of these...

  • Postclassic Obsidian Trade at Arvin’s Landing, Belize: A pXRF Analysis (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kelsey Johnson. Heather McKillop. Bretton Somers.

    Arvin’s Landing is a Postclassic (A.D. 900-1500) settlement located on Joe Taylor Creek near Punta Gorda in southern Belize. The abundance of obsidian in the artifact assemblage at Arvin’s Landing indicates trade from the Maya highland sources of obsidian. During the Classic period (A.D. 300-900), obsidian was transported along the coast and by inland routes to the Maya in the lowlands. There was a shift from a dominance on El Chayal obsidian in the Classic to Ixtepeque obsidian in the...

  • The Provenance and Technology of Paynes Creek Salt Works Pottery and Briquetage (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Linda Howie. Heather McKillop. E. Cory Sills.

    The pottery recovered from Late Classic Maya salt works sites can reveal important information about both the production and distribution of this highly valued trade item. Determination of the geographic origin of the serving vessels and storage jars recovered from salt works, for example, provides direct evidence of trade connections to other areas, as well as the geographic extent of the exchange networks through which salt was distributed. From local perspective, the technological...

  • Sea-level Rise at an Inundated Ancient Maya Salt Work: New Information from the Eleanor Betty Site, Paynes Creek National Park, Belize (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Valerie Feathers. Heather McKillop. E. Cory Sills. Rachel Watson.

    Underwater excavations were performed at Eleanor Betty in 2013 to assess sea-level rise, map preserved wooden architecture, and investigate the inundated shell midden associated with the site. A total of 39 sediment samples were subjected to loss-on ignition (the burning of sediment to obtain the percent of organic matter present) and microscopically sorted in order to identify and analyze organic and inorganic matter. All samples were high in organic content and contained an abundance of fine...

  • Spatial Analysis of the Preserved Wooden Architectural Remains of Eight Late Classic Maya Salt Works in Punta Ycacos Lagoon, Toledo District, Belize (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Bretton Somers.

    In 2005, eight Late Classic Maya sites with the remains of wooden posts were found beneath the surface of Punta Ycacos Lagoon in southern Belize. The presence of briquetage on the surface and embedded among the clusters of wooden architectural features implies association with salt production activity. This research employed a rigorous field survey, combined with mapping, sampling, and building a GIS. Detailed analysis of the spatial distribution of wooden posts was conducted to determine if...

  • Underwater Transect Excavations, Sediment Coring, Remoting Sensing at the Paynes Creek Salt Works (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Heather McKillop. Harry Roberts. Karen McKee. Terrance Winemiller. John Jones.

    Following the discovery and mapping of over 100 salt works in a shallow, salt-water lagoon system, a collaborative, interdisciplinary research project was initiated with funding from NSF to examine the ancient landscape, sea-level rise, use of the wooden buildings for salt production and as residences, and reconstruct the underwater sites using 3D GIS. Sediment coring across the lagoon system identified red mangrove peat, an indicator of actual sea-level rise, as well as a plethora of pollen...