The Salt of the Earth

Ethnoarchaeology of Salt Production in Michoacán, Western Mexico

Eduardo Williams


The present study offers new information on salt production in Michoacán, broadening our perspectives on the role played by common salt, or sodium chloride, in the cultural development of the pre-Hispanic Tarascan state. The research on which this book is based began in 1996 with an interdisciplinary perspective that combines archaeological, ethnographic, and ethnohistorical approaches, as well as oral history. The geographical areas where fieldwork was conducted by the author were the eastern part of the Lake Cuitzeo Basin, and the northern area of the Michoacán coast with the adjoining coastal strip in southern Colima. In these areas one can still find saltworks that employ traditional production techniques, similar to those utilized in pre-Hispanic times, as reported in 16th century sources. The research focused on the cultural and technological processes and the material culture associated with salt-making, especially the artefacts and techniques used by the salt-makers, and their archaeological visibility. We also used ethnohistorical information to document the ancient salt-making techniques in Michoacán and neighbouring areas. The main goal of this research was thus to obtain, through ethnographic observation, processual information that would aidin the interpretation of the archaeological record by means of analogy.

Reviews 'The fourth chapter is an excellent data set on the production of salt in the Tarascan area and its hinterland… Eduardo Williams’s book illustrates the long history of salt production in the region in a coherent way, and the documentation of ethnographic examples provides data for comparisons with the archaeological record anywhere in the world where salt production is documented.'
Barbara Arroyo, Latin American Antiquity, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2017