AUM professor gets grant to study ancient Maya

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The National Science Foundation has awarded Terry Winemiller, an associate professor of sociology at Auburn University at Montgomery, a grant totaling nearly $30,000 to study an undersea Maya settlement located off the coast of Belize.

Working with colleagues at Louisiana State University, where he received a Ph.D. in geography in 2003, Winemiller will spend the next two years investigating a peat bog below the sea floor of Belize's Paynes Creek National Park, where ancient inhabitants extracted salt from seawater.

The team will use sonar, sediment coring, radiocarbon dating and Winemiller's specialty, Global Positioning Systems and Geographic Information Systems, to investigate some of the only surviving wooden architecture known to have been built by the ancient Maya of Mesoamerica most often remembered for stone pyramids like those found at Chichen Itza.

The team discovered 103 underwater sites through previous NSF supported research, finding evidence of briquetage – pots used to boil brine into salt. At this stage of the project they will seek to understand how the inland Maya obtained a regular supply of salt from sources similar to the coastal settlement under investigation. Though salt is difficult to avoid in the modern diet, it was in short supply during the period in question.

"Salt was as essential in the diet of the ancient Maya as it is today in Western society," Winemiller said. "With support from the NSF, we seek to better understand the composition of now-inundated coastal Maya communities that were engaged in the production and exchange of sea salt a thousand years ago."

Winemiller has been at AUM since 2003, where he heads up a GIS certificate program for undergraduate, graduate and non-degree seeking students. Consisting of five courses, the program equips students to use technology and data to unearth and explain relationships, patterns, entities and attributes related to geographic location.