Salt: Was it a Money or Commodity in the Classic Maya Civilization ?

For thousands of years, Salt is used as a current in the economies of various cultures and civilizations throughout the world. But what was the case of Mayans? Did they use it as money or as a commodity?

(Credits: the Calakmul Archaeological Project. Photography: Rogelio Valencia)
aj atz’aam, “el de la sal”, located at the Chi’k Nahb Acropolis of Calakmul.

The late classical period of Mayan civilization depicts the presence of a market-based economy involved in inter and intra-regional trade of surplus products and supplies. This period lasted from 600 to 900 CE. Usually, the presence of large-scale urban exchange markets work on standardization of money, and prices of commodities.

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As per the archaeological and anthropological records of the 16th century, many items were exchanged in the form of money during the period of Yucatec Maya. Such as Cacao beans, woven cotton, and copper items. Scholars interpreted that the Salt of the Paynes Creek Salt Works and the Mayan highlands might be used as money. In those regions, salt was manufactured by boiling brine in the vessels. In a recent research paper, scholar Heather McKillop assesses the use of salt cakes as money in Maya civilization.

The Paynes Creek Salt Works is famous for a history of salt-making activities in the Mayan region. At this place, Salt was prepared in the traditional kitchens by individual families. They produced salt in surplus. There is evidence of salt manufacturing near the shorelines of Punta Ycacos Lagoon. Archaeologically, The Paynes Creek salt-making pottery is allocated to the Punta Ycacos category. They were finished with the help of clay and quartz-sand temper present in the Punta Ycacos Lagoon areas. These potteries were usually very smooth.

Archaeologists have discovered more than four thousand wooden architectural posts and chunks in almost seventy sites. Each site comprises wooden posts and allied artifacts entrenched in the marine floor. One famous site used for salt production was Yotot. During the late Classical Mayan period, most of these places were abandoned due to the fall of trade, and various reasons.

According to this recent study, the manufacturing pattern of salt cakes in Mayan regions shows there is a blurred line between barter and the use of salt in the form of money.

The research was conducted by the Heather McKillop of Louisiana State University, USA. For the Original Article, Click on Journal of Anthropological Archaeology

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