CULTURES IN CONTEXT
The Incas and Prehistoric Cultures
IV: INCA CULTURE
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173. The Maras Salt Ponds (sometimes identified
as "Salt Mines") lie close to Moray. There are 5,000 of them. Some are
unused today but many are owned by families that have harvested salt here
since the time of the Incas and some even longer.
174. The salt comes from a local subterranean
stream of highly salted water which emerges in a spring, a natural outlet.
The flow of the spring was directed through an intricate system of channels
so the water ran down the valley through a whole series of ponds … each
typically four or five metres square in area, and thirty centimetres in
175. The first salt ponds here were built in
AD200-AD900 by the Chanapata culture, pre-dating the Incas. The terraces
are known in Quechua language as Kachi Raqay and they are situated
at an elevation of 3,000 meters above sea level. They supplied the entire
Inca Empire with salt and later the Viceroyalty of Peru.
176. The altitude of the pond terraces slowly
decreases, allowing the water to flow through a myriad of small channels
and be introduced slowly through a notch in one sidewall of each pond.
The proper maintenance of the adjacent feeder channel, the side walls and
the water-entry notch, the pond's bottom surface, the quantity of water,
and the removal of accumulated salt deposits all require close cooperation
among the community of users, in a system established during the time of
the Incas, if not earlier.
177. The traditional way of extracting the salt
is unchanged and the individual ponds have been passed from one generation
to the next. The brine is concentrated and the salt separated off by evaporation.
As the water evaporates salt crystals form on the inner surfaces of the
ponds. When enough crystals have formed the occupier of the pond blocks
the flow of water and allows the pond to dry out.
178. The owner of the pond (or most likely his
wife!) then scrapes the salt from the sides and bottom of the pan … standing
in concentrated brine and working without gloves or boots, as they still
do today. Their husbands carry it home, for family use or sale in local
markets. The drainage notch is then opened and the whole process begins
179. The area is not widely industrialized even
today, and the salt is still bagged up, and sold at local markets. There
are about 3,000 pools that are still harvested by a community of local
families who control the saltpans and the trails to the valley, along which
the salt is moved from the site.
180. Ponds have long been made available to any
person wishing to harvest salt. The operators of the ponds must be members
of the community, and families that are new to the community wishing to
work a salt pond get the one farthest from the community. The size of the
salt pond assigned to a family depends on the family's size.
181. Usually today there are many unused salt
ponds available to be worked. Any prospective salt farmer need only locate
an empty unmaintained pond, consult with the local cooperative, learn how
to keep a pond properly within the accepted communal system, and start
working. (The lowest terraces.)
Text and photos by John Tyman
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