Carlos Álvarez, archaeologist who studied at the Centro de Estudios Mayas de la Universidad Autónoma de México (Center for Maya Studies at UNAM), explains that this site stands out as the home to one of the oldest registered Maya population groups. X’Cambó is recognized as the main source of salt in Mesoamérica, eventually dominating various ports in the region. Its name means “heavenly crocodile” or “place where trading is done”.
X’Cambó is considered by experts as having one of the largest extensions on the peninsula’s coast, and in the prehispanic era it became a significant port for commerce and salt, being able to take advantage of the protection afforded by the coastal lagoons.
X’Cambó and the Chicxulub Crater
The X’Cambó salt mines are an amazing sight. They are situated on the north coast of the Yucatán peninsula, between the Chicxulub crater and the flamingo route.
Its geology is the result of the gigantic impact of an asteroid which caused a huge cataclysm on Earth 65 million years ago, creating the “ring of cenotes” and natural pools set in limestone rock open to the sky. This unusual ecosystem allowed the Maya to harvest the salt when the rain water contained in the vast system of pools evaporated naturally. The lagoons are flooded and the salt crystalizes in large lumps, even forming small pyramids. It was customary to collect the salt four or five months after the rains.
X’Cambó: ancestral Maya salt
Salt is the oldest additive aused in the preparation of food. It played an important role in the daily life of the Maya, as besides being an essential ingredient in daily food, it was used to preserve fish, curing animal skins, medicinal uses, and in rituals.
X’Cambó controlled the salt production in the extensive areas known as salt mines of Xtampú. The salt was commercialized together with other important materials (shells, snails, cotton), aquatic birds and animals of the region, as well as objects made out of shell, bone, stone, and more. The Maya traded these items for things like obsidian, jade, pyrite, and basalt, with various diverse and far-away settlements.
There exists archaeological and ethnohistorical data in the Archivo General de Indias (general file on the Indians), such as the document “Salinas de Yucatán” (1605) (salt mines), which describes the salt production of the day. With the passing of time, the salt mines are still producing. Today the rain water is retained, it evaporates, and when the salt of Xtampú is crystallized, the local people come to collect the salt and distribute it in their community.
X’Cambó is located only 1 km from the Progreso-Telchac Puerto highway, km. 33.
Contributed by Alejandro Arellano
Entry fee to X’cambó: $75 pesos
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