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History Of Salt.

Salt Institute
Saturday, 9th September 2006

Most people probably think of salt as simply that white granular food seasoning found in a salt shaker on virtually every dining table.

It is that, surely, but it is far more. It is an essential element in the diet of not only humans but of animals, and even of many plants. It is one of the most effective and most widely used of all food preservatives (and used to preserve Egyptian mummies as well). Pre-civilization "salt men" represent a significant contemporary archeological research source. And the oldest as well. Its industrial and other uses are almost without number. In fact, salt has great current as well as historical interest, and is even the subject of humorous cartoons, music, "art" and poetry.

Sometimes, however, we need to separate the salt to get the history. And there's a lot of history to get. There's even a 2002 book by Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History.

The fact is that throughout history, salt--called sodium chloride by chemists--has been such an important element of life that it has been the subject of many stories, fables and folktales (such as "Salt on a Magpie's Tail" from Sweden) and is frequently referenced in fairy tales. Some cultures ascribe magical powers to salt. Charles Dickens penned a Victorian era Ghost Story "To Be Taken With A Grain of Salt." Forty years later, author George Gissing's last book was "The Salt of the Earth." Salt so infuses our culture that there are innumerable quotes drawing on salt. There is even a current "Words of Salt" literary competition, keeping alive the link between salt and culture.

Salt served as money at various times and places, and it has been the cause of bitter warfare. Offering bread and salt to visitors, in many cultures, is traditional etiquette. It is used in making pottery. While we have records of the importance of salt in commerce in Medieval times and earlier, in some places like the Sahara and Nepal, salt trading today gives a glimpse of what life may have been like centuries ago. Alchemists use the square symbol to represent salt. "Salt," is common in the jargon of other professions.

Unsurprisingly, evidence shows salt was important as long ago as when mastadons roamed the earth. Salt was in general use long before history, as we know it, began to be recorded. Some 2,700 years B.C.-about 4,700 years ago-there was published in China the Peng-Tzao-Kan-Mu, probably the earliest known treatise on pharmacology. A major portion of this writing was devoted to a discussion of more than 40 kinds of salt, including descriptions of two methods of extracting salt and putting it in usable form that are amazingly similar to processes used today. Chinese folklore recounts the discovery of salt. Salt production has been important in China for two millenia or more. Nomads spreading westward were known to carry salt. Ancient saltmaking in Europe and North America is well-documented

Egyptian art from as long ago as 1450 B.C. records salt-making. More recent examples are drawings of a 15th century French salt evaporation plant, a 16th century Persian picture of a Kurdish salt merchant and a 17th century Italian print offering instructions in distilling salt.

Salt was of crucial importance economically. A far-flung trade in ancient Greece involving exchange of salt for slaves gave rise to the expression, "not worth his salt." The Romans were prodigious builders of saltworks as well as other vital infrastructure (for example, in Poland and England). Special salt rations given early Roman soldiers were known as "salarium argentum," the forerunner of the English word "salary." References to salt abound in languages around the globe, particularly regarding salt used for food. From the Latin "sal," for example, comes such other derived words as "sauce" and "sausage." Salt was an important trading commodity carried by explorers. Countries like Japan without salt deposits feel disadvantaged.

Salt has played a vital part in religious ritual in many cultures, symbolizing immutable, incorruptible purity. There are more than 30 references to salt in the Bible and both the Bible and the Talmud contain insights into salt's cultural significance in Jewish society. Salt has earned a reference in the Catholic Encyclopedia, using expressions like "salt of the earth". And there are many other literary and religious references to salt, including use of salt on altars representing purity, and use of "holy salt" by the Unification Church. Using salt as an indicator, some claim some of the Lost Tribes of Israel went to Japan. (Visitors: feel free to click on the "e-mail Salt Institute" icon at the bottom of the page and share additional such references).

Saltmaking encompasses much of the history of Europe since Roman times. In the United Kingdom, particularly in the Cheshire area salt reigns supreme. Consider visiting the Salt Museum or Lion Salt Works both in Cheshire. Salt was important to Victorian England's chemical industry. Medieval European records document saltmaking technologies and concessions. On the Continent, Venice rose to economic greatness through its salt monopoly. Further north, Halle is Germany's "Salt City" and an "old salt route" connected German salt mines to shipping ports on the Baltic; modern tourists also track ancient German salt history. And World War II historians record how the Nazis plundered European artworks and secreted them in salt mines. Near Hitler's retreat at Berchtesgaden, saltmaking has been important for centuries. Saltmaking was important in the Adriatic/Balkans region as well (the present border between Slovenia and Croatia) where Tuzla in Bosnia-Herzegovina is actually named for "tuz," the Turkish word for salt. So is Salzburg, Austria, which has made its four salt mines major tourist attractions.

The grand designs of Philip II of Spain came undone through the Dutch Revolt at the end of the 16th Century; one of the keys, according to Montesquieu, was the successful Dutch blockade of Iberian saltworks which led directly to Spanish bankruptcy. France has always been a major producer of salt, both on its Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. France, in fact, has a "salt road" along its Mediterranean coast. In the flowering of French neo-classicism in the 18th century, "The Ideal City of Chaux" was centered on the royal saltworks. Any discussion of saltmaking and distribution in France includes discussion of the gabelle (see below), the salt tax which was a significant cause of the French Revolution. In Spain, while Basques' salt involvement is usually thought of as their being intrepid cod-fisherman on the Grand Banks, salting their catch for European markets, Basque country also has its own salt route. Many Americans evoke an image from the phrase "Siberian salt mines," but saltmaking takes place in many places in Russia. Generations of salt miners in Poland have carved a national treasure in the Wieliczka take a tour, #17 of this salt mine near Kracow, long an object of travelers' interest and even the venue for unforgettable weddings today. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is assisting in protecting this treasure.

In the Middle East, the Jordanian town of As-Salt, located on the road between Amman and Jerusalem, was known as Saltus in Byzantine times and was the seat of a bishopric. Later destroyed by the Mongols it was rebuilt by the Mamluke sultan Baybars I in the 13th century; the ruins of his fortress remain today.

Indian history recalls the prominent role of salt. There was even a caste of salt-diggers. During British colonial days, salt motivated the Great Hedge ( 1 2 ) and its role in the British salt starvation policy, and Mahatma Ghandi's resistance to British colonial rule (see below).

Salt played a key role in the history of West Africa particularly during the great trading empire of Mali (13th - 16th Centuries) -- and it still does, even being used as a fund-raising idea!-- and in East Africa.

Salt has played a prominent role in the European exploration of the Americas and subsequent American history, Canadian history and Mexican history as well. The first Native Americans "discovered" by Europeans in the Caribbean were harvesting sea salt as on St. Maarten, typical of other Caribbean islands like Anguilla. The Hopi in the US Southwest had ceremonial salt mines. When the major European fishing fleets discovered the Grand Banks of Newfoundland at the end of the 15th Century, the Portuguese and Spanish fleets used the "wet" method of salting their fish onboard, while the French and English fleets used the "dry" or "shore" salting method of drying their catch on racks onshore; thus, the French and British fishermen became the first European inhabitants of northern North America since the Vikings a half-century earlier. Had it not been for the practice of salting fish, Europeans might have confined their fishing to the coasts of Europe and delayed "discovery" of the "New World." In South America, Columbian salt miners have protected a unique resource at Zipaquira. The history of salt-making in the Netherlands Antilles reflects the often-harsh period of colonial conquest. Bolivia's salt producing region is a tourist attraction with one hotel constructed entirely of salt. And tourists today visit ancient Incan salt mines and the unique beauty of Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni...

The complete article can be found at;

- Janq

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4,273 Posts
who would have thought that one surprisingly explosive metal, sodium, and something as poisonous to humans as chlorine would mix to make something so necessary.

or you can just take sea water and let the water evaporate. that works too.
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