Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



Abstract Underwater excavations were conducted at an Early Classic (A.D. 300-600) and a Late Classic (A.D. 600-900) submerged ancient Maya salt works in Paynes Creek National Park, Belize. The archaeological investigations included underwater excavations, artifact analysis, marine sediment chemical testing, and source identification of obsidian—an important indicator of trade. The excavation and analysis of the salt works in Paynes Creek add a new perspective on ancient Maya craft production and the economies of other ancient civilizations. The archaeological excavations reveal activity areas associated with a substantial salt industry for distribution to the southern Maya inland inhabitants, where this biological requirement was scarce. The salt works intensified production related to the dramatic population increase from the Early to Late Classic. Analysis of obsidian blades from the salt works by portable X-ray fluorescence indicates that the salt makers took advantage of their coastal location to trade inland to the large cities and along the coast. The salt works are associated with the only known ancient Maya wooden architecture forming rectangular buildings. Transects excavations placed to extend through the interior and exterior of buildings reveal an abundance of briquetage—ceramic vessels used to evaporate brine over fires to make salt. The plethora of briquetage and charcoal and the scarcity of domestic artifacts indicate that the sites were specialized and not physically attached to households. The briquetage is located within and surrounding the wooden building indicating that salt production was an indoor activity. Sea-level rise submerged the Paynes Creek salt works and preserved wooden architecture in a red mangrove peat bog. The slightly acidic peat preserved wood and other botanical remains but is not conducive to the preservation of bone. Consequently, the examination of the artifacts may be biased against the preservation of animal food remains and human burials which are typically found at Maya settlements. The results of chemical sediment analysis indicate activity locations inside and outside of wooden architecture not shown by the artifact assemblage.



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Committee Chair

McKillop, Heather