Semester of Graduation

Spring 2021


Master of Arts (MA)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



The ancient Maya of Mesoamerica created a culture with writing, religion, and vast trade networks. These trade networks are evident on the southern coast of Belize, where archaeologists have found sites dedicated to salt making. One of these sites, Ta’ab Nuk Na, was the subject of this thesis. Sediment and charcoal samples were collected from this site by the Underwater Maya Research Group led by Heather McKillop and E. Cory Sills. For my thesis research, I subjected these samples and components within them to loss-on ignition, radiometric dating, and microscopic analysis. Loss-on ignition was used to ascertain organic material percentage by burning sediment at high temperatures to burn off organic components that are weighed and compared to unburned sediment. Microscopic analysis was used to determine the organic makeup of the sediment across the excavation. Radiometric dating was used to determine dates for site occupation and sea-level rise. Loss-on ignition and microscopic analysis helped accurately determine areas of the excavation associated with human activity. Radiometric dating gave an idea of when the site was abandoned due to sea-level rise. I used these methods to achieve the research objectives of the thesis. The first objective was to discover when sea-level rose and how it affected the ancient Maya at Ta’ab Nuk Na. The second objective was to determine whether the organic material at the excavation is high and which specific areas along the I-line 4m transect are the highest. The third objective was to determine when the site was occupied by the ancient Maya. These scientific activities helped interpret the site in the context of the Paynes Creek Salt Works. This thesis also helped interpret the ancient Maya response to rapid sea-level rise and how that knowledge can be used in our modern-day world.

Committee Chair

McKillop, Heather