Feb 29, 2008

Maya Blue mystery solved

The anthropologists from Wheaton College (Illinois) and The Field Museum have discovered how the ancient Maya produced an unusual blue pigment that was used in offerings, pottery, murals and other contexts across Mesoamerica from about A.D. 300 to 1500.

Known as Maya Blue, this blue pigment was first identified in 1931. Maya Blue has puzzled archaeologists, chemists and material scientists for years because of its unusual chemical stability, composition and persistent color in one of the world's harshest climates.

Maya Blue is resistant to age, acid, weathering, biodegradation and even modern chemical solvents. It has been called "one of the great technological and artistic achievements of Mesoamerica."

During the Postclassic Period, from around 900 A.D. to 1500 A.D., the Maya would sacrifice people and objects by throwing them into the well, a wide, naturally-formed sinkhole called the Sacred Cenote. The scientists studied pottery found at the bottom of such well at an important Pre-Columbian Maya site called Chichén Itzá in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico.

The researchers analyzed a bowl from the cenote that was used to burn incense. The pottery contained traces of Maya Blue. Scientists knew that it contained two substances — extract from the leaves of the indigo plant and a clay mineral called palygorskite. By examining these pigment samples under an electron microscope, the researchers now says that heat and perhaps copal resin were the keys to fusing the indigo extract and the clay mineral. The scientists think making Maya Blue was part of the sacrifice ritual. Link


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