The ancient Maya might be known for their mathematical aptitude, their accurate calendars, and their impressive temples. But did you know they were also salt entrepreneurs?
During the peak of Maya civilization – from 300 to 900 A.D. — coastal Maya produced salt by boiling brine in pots over fires. The end result was shaped into salt cakes, then paddled by canoe to inland cities and traded at extensive markets.
The latest evidence supporting the existence of the Maya salt empire comes from Heather McKillop, an archaeologist at Louisiana State University, and her co-author, anthropologist Kazuo Aoyama from Ibaraki University in Japan, an expert on stone tools.
Their research, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that not only were the Maya producing a lot of salt, they were also salting and preserving fish, which they were able to contribute to the local economy. Salt and salted fish were both storable commodities, which means they were suitable for trade and also for alleviating potential food shortages, the researchers say.