Traditional Salinas

History of salt and man

Man has always needed salt for his subsistence. When he was a nomadic hunter, his daily need for salt (5-10 grams) and proteins came from the meat and blood of his prey. The later sedentary Neolithic Man, with a more vegetarian diet, needed extra input of salt, although we imagine that he consumed relatively little salt (3-5 grams).

Already 7000 years ago, the Egyptians had created some coastal salinas were seawater was concentrated to crystallize. The Chinese described 30 types of salt and two methods of producing it about 2700 B.C. Close to Hallstatt in Austria, Celtic miners had dug several kilometers of galleries 300 meters under the mountain some 3000 years ago. On the Atlantic coast people collected salty sand and produced salt in clay pots 2000 years ago and we know that the salinas of Guérande – at least partly – existed in the 9th century A.D.

Salt was for long mostly used for preserving food. It was until recently a product of high economic and strategic value. Trade, salt-routes, taxes, wars are words that can be connected to salt. The ancient Greeks could buy a slave in exchange for salt and roman soldiers were paid in salt (salary).

A changing world

But today the situation is different. The uses of salt are extremely diverse and the chemical industry uses almost 50% of the European production, 20% is used against ice and snow on the winter roads and only 12% for human consumption.

The way of producing salt has also changed. From previously small units (mines or coastal salinas), salt is today mainly produced in huge industrial plants and mines or in mechanized salinas of several 1000 hectares. Some big salinas produce one million tons of salt per year. Financially uninteresting or low-producing sites have been abandoned. Thus, salt has become a globally cheap and banal product.

Small salinas

The ALAS project is mainly interested in the small coastal salinas along the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Black Sea coasts. Some have resisted modernization and have not been totally abandoned. But many have unfortunately been deserted, transformed into fish-farms or filled in for roads or other constructions. Even some small salinas have been modernized or the production techniques have been modified (fewer harvests).

The small, often old, salinas have a rich and fascinating history. Their ethnographic and social values can be of great interest. They may also have a considerable importance for plants and animals.

Our ambition is to gather knowledge about these salinas, make people work together for their survival and economical development. Well beyond the final date of the ALAS project, we still hope that this is possible.

Hjalmar Dahm

- More information about the history of salt can be found in several of the web-links. We specially advice you to check out

- In you will find some very interesting articles about salt.

- There is an international association for people interested in the history of salt.

Taking in the salt 100 years ago. Ile de Re, France

Boiling salt in Medieval Norway. From Olaus Magnus 1555

60 years ago in Pomorie. Collection: Municipal museum

Extracting salt from the beaches on the Atlantic coast. Source: Encyclopedia Diderot

Collection salt with age old tools. Cervia.(Photo Hjalmar Dahm)

Site updated on March 15th 2003

All photos
© by Hjalmar Dahm - except where otherwise indicated


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