November 14, 2020
A team of UC anthropologists, geographers and biologists identified crystalline quartz and zeolite imported miles from the city. The quartz found in the coarse sand along with zeolite, a crystalline compound consisting of silicon and aluminum, create a natural molecular sieve. Both minerals are used in modern water filtration.
The filters would have removed harmful microbes, nitrogen-rich compounds, heavy metals such as mercury and other toxins from the water, said Kenneth Barnett Tankersley, associate professor of anthropology and lead author of the study.
“What’s interesting is this system would still be effective today and the Maya discovered it more than 2,000 years ago,” Tankersley said.
UC’s discovery was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Researchers traced the zeolite and quartz to steep ridges around the Bajo de Azúcar about 18 miles northeast of Tikal. They used X-ray diffraction analysis to identify zeolite and crystalline quartz in the reservoir sediments.
Maya cities were built atop porous limestone that made ready access to drinking water difficult to obtain for much of the year during seasonal droughts.
“They had settling tanks where the water would be flowing toward the reservoir before entering the reservoir. The water probably looked cleaner and probably tasted better, too,” he said.
In a related paper published earlier this year in Scientific Reports, UC’s research team found that some reservoirs in Tikal eventually became polluted with toxic levels of mercury, possibly from a pigment called cinnabar the Maya used on plaster walls and in ceremonial burials. Corriental remained free of these contaminants.
Complex water filtration systems have been observed in other ancient civilizations from Greece to Egypt to South Asia, but this is the first observed in the ancient New World,
Ancient Maya reservoirs contained toxic pollution: study
More information: Kenneth Barnett Tankersley et al, Zeolite water purification at Tikal, an ancient Maya city in Guatemala, Scientific Reports (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-75023-7
Phys.org had the report here:
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