Prehistoric salt research in Eastern North America is still only just beginning. The lack of concern has largely been due to the low archaeological visibility of this very important resource, but the study of salt should play a role in any research involved with late prehistoric trade in the East. Wherever there was a heavy reliance on agricultural products, there was the need for salt. Either the people made it themselves, from the ashes of salt plants, salines, the ocean, etc., or they obtained it through trade from elsewhere. The by-products of the industry and trade do exist in the archaeological record, but the problem has been in their recognition.
Archaeological visibility is considerably stronger in the early development of the salt industry. I have proposed three major developments in the evolution of Eastern Amerindian salt production. The first two stages involved the use of thick heavy salt pans, containers for the evaporation of brine. The fabric-impressed salt pan was more widely distributed in the early Mississippi period but, for some reason, smooth-surfaced pans became more common in later years.
At the same time as the idea of smooth-surfaced salt pans was diffusing over a good portion of the East, this pan type was disappearing in southeast Missouri /northeast Arkansas. For some reason, the area which gave rise to this innovative type stopped producing it in the late Mississippi period. I have proposed that another innovation in salt production was occurring in southeast Missouri /northeast Arkansas at this time, a technology which shared many parallels with salt production methods employed in Europe, Africa, and Asia. The by-products of this industry, called briquetage, have been found on numerous sites in the Midwest and Southeast, but the complex as a whole has only been observed at the Avery Island saline in southwest Louisiana. The new method involved the artificial evaporation of brine in typical utilitarian bowls over low fires. The bowls are thought to have been supported by short coarse clay pedestals. Once the salt crystallized, it was scraped into miniature bowls (augets) for both drying and transporting.
This last technique has an extremely low archaeological visibility. The evaporating bowls look like any other utilitarian cooking or serving containers, the miniature vessels were carried far from the salt sources, and the poorly-fired clay supports disintegrated through time. The similarities between the artifacts at the Avery Island saline and typical Old World briquetage are remarkable, but the observed parallels between the two hemispheres are not the result of transoceanic contacts. There are a limited number of ways to produce relatively pure salt that is both solid and readily transportable, and the peoples of America, Europe, Africa, and Asia apparently learned the appropriate techniques independently.
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The funding for this research was supplied by four different agencies: private grants from anonymous members of the Mcllhenny-Avery family, Interna- tional Salt Company, Avery Island Inc., and a Historic Preservation Grant- In-Aid award issued by the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism and the U.S. Department of the Interior. I would like to thank all of the above donors for their generous assistance. This volume is a summary of a more detailed monograph on the subject of salt (Brown 1980b). Interested readers can order the primary version from the Lower Mississippi Survey, Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. 02138.
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