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Ancient Mayan city had industrial salt processing plant

Guatemala City, Sep 29 (IANS/EFE): An industrial salt processing plant of the Maya pre-classic period in Guatemala, which once produced as much as 24,000 tonnes of salt annually, has been discovered.

According to American archaeologist Brent Woodfill, it was discovered at Salinas de los Nueve Cerros (Saltworks of the Nine Hills), one of the most ancient cities of the Mayan civilisation.

Woodfill, who began his research in 2009, however, admitted the site had been first visited in the late 19th century by German geographer Karl Sapper, who after a brief study returned to his country.

He carried part of a sculpture which is presently exhibited at Berlin's Dahlem Museum.

In 1975, US archaeologist Brian Dillon was the second to visit the site. In 1990, he managed to uncover a number of massive containers there, meant for storing salt.

Woodfill said the archaeological site is along the Franja Transversal del Norte tollroad in the province of Alta Verapaz, some 220 km from Guatemala City, and is a 30-square-km valley of wetlands fed by the Chixoy river.

According to evidence found by the team of 20 US and Guatemalan archaeologists, the Mayas of that period were able to produce up to 24,000 tonnes of salt per year, Woodfill said in a press conference.

Production was done by means of the artisanal craft of boiling water from a salty river, flowing from a natural dome in the middle of the site.

Woodfill, the director of the project, said the product was transported for trading to northern Guatemala's lowlands of Peten and Alta Verapaz provinces, and to Chiapas in southern Mexico, across the Chixoy and Usumacinta rivers.

Ancient Mayas reduced the salt brine in cup-shaped vessels, then poured them into large, flat molds to make blocks of salt for export. It was done after first stacking them in huge containers - somewhat less than two metres in diameter - which they then stored underground all around the city's industrial area.

The origin of Salinas de los Nueve Cerros (Saltworks of the Nine Hills) dates back to the mid-pre-classic period (1000 B.C. to 800 B.C.).

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