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The Grim Story of Maya Blue - UPDATES


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« on: February 29, 2008, 10:44:41 am »









                                                 The Grim Story of Maya Blue
               



 
By KENNETH CHANG
Published: February 29, 2008
Here is a swatch of Maya blue: ■
 
The Field Museum

Maya blue retains its vibrant color for centuries. This 4.5-inch-high figurine head from Jaina Island dates from the Maya Late Classic period from 600 to 900 A.D.

The First Direct Evidence for the Production of Maya Blue: Rediscovery of a Technology (Antiquity)The vibrant sky color can be seen on pottery, murals and other artifacts produced by the Maya people of Central America centuries ago and the unusual, durable pigment remains vibrant today long after other colors have faded away.

It was also the color of Chaak, the rain god, and of human sacrifice.

When the skies looked too much like Maya blue — cloudless and dry — the Maya sometimes selected an unlucky victim to be painted this color and sacrificed to Chaak in hopes that the rains would follow.

An account by a 16th century Spanish priest described rituals where victims were stripped, painted and thrown onto a stone altar where their hearts, still beating, were cut out.

“We knew blue was a very important color,” said Dean E. Arnold, a professor of anthropology at Wheaton College in Illinois. “It was very, very important for the priests and very important for ritual.”

The composition of Maya blue, first used around 300 A.D. and which is almost impervious to age, acid, weather and even modern solvents, remained a mystery until 1960s when chemists deciphered its chemical components: the dye indigo and a clay mineral known as palygorskite, which can be melded together by heat to produce the pigment.

What remained unknown was where and when the Maya made Maya blue. Was there a paint factory churning it out by the gallon? Or was it a secret recipe held tightly by the priests? Was it made at the mines where the palygorskite was dug out or was the palygorskite transported to the cities?

An answer comes from a bowl that has been sitting in the Field Museum in Chicago for decades, Dr. Arnold and colleagues from the Field Museum and Northwestern University, report in the journal Antiquity.

The bowl had been dredged up, among other artifacts and 127 skeletons, by an explorer named Edward Thompson early in the 20th century from a natural well at Chichen Itza, which was a major Maya city in near the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, about 120 miles west of Cancun. Thompson shipped the artifacts to Harvard’s Peabody Museum, which later swapped some of them to the Field Museum.

Also intriguingly, Thompson described a 14-foot-layer of blue sediment at the bottom of the well, called the Sacred Cenote. (A cenote, pronounced seh-NO-tay, is a sinkhole that fills up with groundwater.)

The three-legged bowl, dating from about 1400, contained a chunk of incense that was burned in Maya rituals. Within the incense, were bits of white and blue. Molecular-scale images taken by a scanning tunneling microscope showed these to be palygroskite and indigo.

Thus, the researchers concluded, Indigo blue was made as part of the ritual, the ingredients heated by the burning of incense. The pigment was then applied to pots and sacrifices before being thrown into the well.

Because the paint did not have time to set, the researchers surmise that the paint that washed off tinted the sediment layer.

Jeremy A. Sabloff, a professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved with the research said the new findings are a good example of using cutting edge technologies to reexamine old museum pieces.

“Just technically, it gives us a better understanding how Maya blue was produced,” Dr. Sabloff said. “Beyond that, it gives us a better, clearer understanding of the role of Maya blue in ancient Maya ritual. It clearly played a much larger role than most scholars had appreciated until now.”

But human sacrifice was not always part of the ritual, said Gary M. Feinman, Field’s curator of anthropology and an author of the Antiquity paper. Although Thompson did find 127 skeletons, the Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza was used as a ritual site for centuries. More often, pottery was painted blue was thrown in, not people, Dr. Feinman said.
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« Reply #1 on: February 29, 2008, 12:05:50 pm »

It's really a shame that the Mayans practiced such a barbaric form of human sacrifice (as if there is even a good one).  Everytime I read about how they killed their vitctims, it just seems to put a damper on their other accomplishments for me.
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« Reply #2 on: February 29, 2008, 04:39:27 pm »





QUOTE:


"It's really a shame that the Mayans practiced such a barbaric form of human sacrifice (as if there is even a good one).  Everytime I read about how they killed their vitctims, it just seems to put a damper on their other accomplishments for me."


I have often thought the same, FOTU.

Furthermore, it makes one think of KARMA.

A 'karma' that the 'conquistadores' meted out with as much ferocity and barbarity......
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« Reply #3 on: April 20, 2009, 06:22:59 pm »



A Maya three-footed pottery bowl dating from about
1400 A.D, and kept in the in the Field Museum in Chicago's
 collection is seen in thisundated handout photo.

The bowl has helped scientists unlock the mysteries of a
pigment called Maya blue used for about a millennium by
Mesoamerican peoples.

REUTERS/The Field Museum/John Weinstein







                                            Feeling blue? Not like a Maya sacrificial victim





By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON
Feb. 27, 2008
(Reuters)

- There was more than the obvious reason to feel blue for people offered in human sacrifice rituals
by the ancient Maya to their rain god -- they were painted blue before being heaved into a watery sinkhole.
 
And it wasn't just any blue. It was Maya blue -- a vivid, somewhat turquoise-colored pigment used
for about a millennium by Mesoamerican peoples to decorate pottery, figurines and murals that has
long mystified scientists.

But now anthropologists from Wheaton College in Illinois and the Field Museum in Chicago have dis-
covered how the ancient Maya produced this pigment and the role it played in important rituals at
a famous Maya site in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

"Maya blue has long been of interest to scholars, both archeologists and chemists," Gary Feinman,
curator of anthropology at the Field Museum who worked on the study, said in a telephone interview.

"The interest in Maya blue stems from the fact that it is a very durable pigment -- more durable
than most natural dyes and pigments. It also stems from the fact it wasn't immediately obvious
how it was made and what the key ingredients were."

The pigment resists age, acid, weathering, biodegradation and modern chemical solvents.

Previous research had identified two ingredients as extract from the leaves of the indigo plant and
an unusual white clay mineral called palygorskite.

These researchers did microscopic analysis on material found in a three-footed pottery bowl in the
museum's collection dating from A.D. 1400 that had been used as an incense burner.
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« Reply #4 on: April 20, 2009, 06:32:04 pm »









RAIN GOD CHAAK



A century ago, the bowl was dredged from the Sacred Cenote, a natural sinkhole well, at Chichen
Itza, a key urban center late in Maya history. They found that copal, a tree resin burned as incense,
also was part of the Maya blue concoction.

And they concluded that the pigment was made by mixing the ingredients over low heat in rituals
performed on the edge of the sinkhole. That was bad news for human sacrificial victims.

Feinman said that human sacrifice was part of rituals appealing to the Maya rain god Chaak -- de-
picted on some Maya structures with a unique elongated, curled nose -- to deliver rain for crops
such as corn.

During the rituals conducted on the edge of the cenote at Chichen Itza, Feinman said, the Maya
seem to have produced the pigment and painted items like pottery that would be tossed into the
water as offerings to the god.

And, he added, they also would paint people being offered as human sacrifices blue and heave
them into the sinkhole. Feinman said about 120 sets of human remains have been dredged from
the sinkhole, along with lots of ceremonial objects.

"Adult males may have had their hearts removed before they were dumped in," Feinman said.

Feinman said at the bottom of the cenote, a layer 14 feet deep of blue goo has been found,
likely composed of pigment that washed off sacrificial victims and objects.

"The Maya used indigo, copal incense and palygorskite for medicinal purposes," said anthropologist Dean Arnold of Wheaton College and the Field Museum, who also worked on the study.

"So, what we have here are three healing elements that were combined with fire during the ritual at the edge of the Sacred Cenote. The result created Maya blue, symbolic of the healing power of water in an agricultural community," Arnold said.



The findings were published in the journal Antiquity.

(Editing by
Julie Steenhuysen and
Xavier Briand)
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« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2009, 06:35:33 pm »


Public release date: 26-Feb-2008
Contact: Greg Borzo
gborzo@fieldmuseum.org
312-665-7106
Field Museum









                                    Centuries-old Maya Blue mystery finally solved


     Production of the renowned, extremely stable pigment was part of ritual sacrifices at Chichén Itzá






CHICAGO

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

First identified in 1931, this blue pigment (known as 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.

The anthropologists solved another old mystery, namely the presence of a 14-foot layer of blue precipitate found at the bottom of the Sacred Cenote (a natural well) at Chichén Itzá. This remarkably thick blue layer was discovered at the beginning of the 20th century when the well was dredged.

Chichén Itzá, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is an important pre-Columbian archeological site built by the Maya who lived on what is now the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico.

The findings from this research will be published online Feb. 26, 2008, by the prestigious British journal Antiquity and will appear in the print version of the quarterly journal to be released in early March.

According to 16th Century textual accounts, blue was the color of sacrifice for the ancient Maya. They painted human beings blue before thrusting them backwards on an altar (see below for image) and cutting their beating heart from their bodies. Human sacrifices were also painted blue before they were thrown into the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá. In addition, blue was used on murals, pottery, copal incense, rubber, wood and other items thrown into the well.

The new research concludes that the sacrificial blue paint found at this site was not just any pigment. Instead, it was the renowned Maya Blue – an important, vivid, virtually indestructible pigment.

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.”

Scientists have long known that the remarkably stable Maya Blue results from a unique chemical bond between indigo and palygorskite, an unusual clay mineral that, unlike most clay minerals, has long interior channels. Several studies have found that Maya Blue can be created by heating a mixture of palygorskite with a small amount of indigo, but they have not been able to discover how the ancient Maya themselves actually produced the pigment.

The new research shows that at Chichén Itzá the creation of Maya Blue was actually a part of the performance of rituals that took place alongside the Sacred Cenote. Specifically, the indigo and palygorskite were fused together with heat by burning a mixture of copal incense, palygorskite and probably the leaves of the indigo plant. Then the sacrifices were painted blue and thrown into the Sacred Cenote.

“These sacrifices were aimed at placating the rain god Chaak,” said Dean E. Arnold, Professor of Anthropology at Wheaton College, Research Associate at The Field Museum and lead author of the study. “The ritual combination of these three materials, each of which was used for healing, had great symbolic value and ritualistic significance.

“The Maya used indigo, copal incense and palygorskite for medicinal purposes,” Arnold continued. “So, what we have here are three healing elements that were combined with fire during the ritual at the edge of the Sacred Cenote. The result created Maya Blue, symbolic of the healing power of water in an agricultural community.”

Rain was critical to the ancient Maya of northern Yucatan. From January through mid-May there is little rain – so little that the dry season could be described as a seasonal drought. “The offering of three healing elements thus fed Chaak and symbolically brought him into the ritual in the form a bright blue color that hopefully would bring rainfall and allow the corn to grow again,” Arnold said.
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« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2009, 06:39:31 pm »








Museum collections play key role



One of the keys to solving the mystery of Maya Blue production was a three-footed pottery bowl (Field Museum catalog number 1969.189262; see below for reference to image) containing rarely preserved copal dredged from the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá in 1904 and traded to The Field Museum in the 1930s. Preserved in the copal were fragments of a white substance and blue pigment. Using The Field Museum’s scanning electron microscope, the authors studied these inclusions and found signatures for palygorskite and indigo. From this they concluded that the Maya produced Maya Blue as part of their sacrificial ceremonies.

“This study documents the analytical value of museum collections for resolving long-standing research questions,” said Gary Feinman, Curator of Anthropology at The Field Museum and co-author of the study.

But other knowledge was necessary to understand the significance of the bowl and the hardened copal it contains.

“This study required documentary, ethnographic and experimental research to establish the full context and use of the artifacts,” Feinman said. “Our work emphasizes the potential rewards of scientific work on old museum collections. It also shows that scientific analysis is necessary but not sufficient for understanding museum objects.”

It is this broad knowledge coupled with the scientific analysis that has enabled the scientists to finally – after more than 100 years – explain the thick layer of blue precipitate at the bottom of the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá.

Already knowing that Maya Blue was central to Maya ritualistic sacrifices together with discovering that the pigment was produced right beside the Cenote solved the mystery of the 14-foot layer of blue precipitate: So many sacrifices – from pots to more than 100 human beings – were thrown into the Sacred Cenote that ultimately a layer of the pigment washed off the sacrifices and settled at the bottom of the well. (Although fully formed Maya Blue is extremely durable, it can be washed off with water, especially if there is no binder to help it adhere to the object on which it is placed.)

Other objects in The Field Museum’s collections may reveal more information about Maya Blue, the scientists said. For example, identification of the plant materials on the bottom of the copal incense in other bowls dredged from the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá could reveal which portions of the indigo plant were used to make Maya Blue.

“The Field Museum’s collection was critical in solving this mystery,” Arnold concluded. “This bowl has been in the collection for 75 years yet only now have we been able to use it in discovering the ancient Maya technology of making Maya Blue.”
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« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2009, 06:41:14 pm »









The other co-authors of this research are Jason Branden from Northwestern University, and Patrick Ryan Williams and J.P. Brown, both from The Field Museum.






                                                     Digital images available:



Altar



The altar on the Temple of the Warriors at Chichén Itzá upon which human sacrifices were made. The altar was painted blue. After human victims were stripped, painted blue, and thrust back down on the altar, their beating hearts were removed.
Photo by Dean E. Arnold, Courtesy of Dean E. Arnold.






Bowl



This Maya tripod pottery bowl (Field Museum catalog number 1969.189262) containing copal from Chichén Itzá’s Sacred Cenote used for sacrifices provided the clues that resolved the mystery of how the ancient Maya produce Maya Blue and how a 14-foot layer of blue precipitate formed at the bottom of the Sacred Cenote (a natural well). It has been part of The Field Museum’s collections for 75 years.
Photo by John Weinstein; Courtesy of The Field Museum.






Copal from bowl



The underside of the copal removed from the Maya tripod pottery bowl shows evidence that helped solve mysteries surrounding the ancient production of Maya Blue. Fine blue and white grains were removed for analysis and indicated the presence of Maya Blue and palygorskite, indicating that the pigment was being made near Chichén Itzá’s Sacred Cenote into which the bowl (containing this copal) was thrown.



Photo by Linda Nicholas; Courtesy of The Field Museum.
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« Reply #8 on: April 20, 2009, 06:42:57 pm »








The altar on the Temple of the Warriors at Chichén Itzá upon which human sacrifices were made.

The altar was painted blue.

After human victims were stripped, painted blue, and thrust back down on the altar, their beating
hearts were removed.


(Credit: Photo by
Dean E. Arnold,

Courtesy of
Dean E. Arnold)



http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080226162953.htm
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« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2009, 06:59:39 pm »









                                     Scientists figure out secret of Maya’s blue paint


                              Famous blue pigment used as part of human sacrifice ritual






By Clara Moskowitz
Wed., Feb. 27, 2008

Ancient Maya would paint unlucky people blue and throw them down a sacred well as human sacrifices. Now scientists have solved the mystery of how to make the famous blue pigment by analyzing traces on pottery left in the bottom of the well.

The Maya associated the color blue with their rain deities. When they offered sacrifices to the god Chaak, they would paint them blue in hopes he would send rain to make corn grow. The blue paint has been found on objects for a long time, but scientists have debated how the Maya created the pigment.

Now Gary Feinman, curator of anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago, and Dean E. Arnold, a professor of anthropology at Wheaton College, have figured out the secret ingredient in the ancient Maya concoction.

The scientists studied pottery found at the bottom of the well at an important Pre-Columbian Maya site called Chichén Itzá in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. 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. Based on studies of bones found at the bottom, it seems most of the human sacrifices were male.

The researchers analyzed a bowl from the cenote that was used to burn incense. The pottery contained traces of Maya Blue. Scientists have long puzzled over how the ancient people created such a vivid, durable, fade-resistant pigment. They knew 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 were able to detect the signatures of its key ingredients.

"Nobody has ever really figured out how those two key ingredients were fused into a very stable pigment," Feinman told LiveScience. "We think that copal, the sacred incense, may have been a third ingredient. We're arguing that heat and perhaps copal resin were the keys to fusing the indigo extract and the clay mineral. And also we have some pretty decent evidence that this was likely taking place at the edge of the cenote."




Linda Nicholas
/ Field Museum
Copal incense may have been the binding agent that allowed Maya Blue to stay true for so long

 
The copal incense may have been the binding agent that allowed the color to stay true for so long, Feinman said.

"One of the things that’s always been distinctive about Maya Blue is how durable and steadfast a color it is, which is unusual compared to many natural pigments, which fade a lot through time," he said. "This may have been one reason why it was quite so durable."

The scientists think making Maya Blue was part of the sacrifice ritual.

"My guess is that they probably had a large fire and a vessel over that fire where they were combining the key ingredients," Feinman said. "And then they probably took pieces of the hot copal and put them into the vessel."

When the Sacred Cenote was first dredged in 1904, researchers found a 14-foot thick layer of blue residue at the bottom, but didn’t understand its origin. Now, Feinman said, we know it is probably left over from the years' worth of blue-coated sacrifices thrown into the well.


During its heyday, Chichén Itzá was a thriving city. Even after the city collapsed, ancient Maya would take pilgrimages to the site to make sacrifices. Now tourists flock there to see the cenote and a giant step pyramid temple dedicated to Quetzalcoatl. In 2007, it was designated one of the New Seven Wonders of the World by the New Open World Corp.



The new study will be published online Feb. 26 in the British journal Antiquity.

© 2009 LiveScience.com.
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« Reply #10 on: April 20, 2009, 07:03:16 pm »

   






Material contained in this Maya three-footed pottery bowl dating from about 1400 has helped scientists unlock the mysteries of a pigment called Maya blue used for about a millennium by Mesoamerican peoples.

Anthropologists from Wheaton College in Illinois and the Field Museum in Chicago discovered how the ancient Maya produced this pigment and the role it played in important rituals at a famous Maya site in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. Maya blue -- a vivid, somewhat turquoise-colored pigment -- was used to decorate pottery, figurines and murals that has long mystified scientists.

The bowl was in the Field Museum's collection.
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« Reply #11 on: April 20, 2009, 07:09:19 pm »

   

    Maya Blue pigment used in a mask.


     (Credit:
      Wikimedia Commons.
      Public Domain Image.)
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« Reply #12 on: April 20, 2009, 07:13:05 pm »









                                                    Origins Of Maya Blue In Mexico






ScienceDaily
(Apr. 20, 2009)

— The ancient Maya civilisation used a rare type of clay called "palygorskite" to produce Maya blue. Combining structural, morphological and geochemical methods, Spanish researchers have defined the features of palygorskite clay on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. These findings will make it possible to ascertain the origin of the materials used to produce this pigment, which survives both time and chemical and environmental elements.

A Spanish research team has traced the route followed by the Maya to obtain palygorskite clay, one of the basic ingredients of Maya Blue. "Our main objective was to determine whether the Maya obtained this clay from one place in particular," co-author of the study Manuel Sánchez del Río, a physicist at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble (France), told SINC.

The team, including Mercedes Suárez, from the Geology Department of the University of Salamanca and Emilia García Romero, from the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, analysed various samples of palygorskite clay on the Yucatan Peninsula to compare them to samples from other places. The results are available in the latest edition of Archaeometry.

Palygorskite clay has been used in Mesoamerica since ancient times. Numerous data suggest the Maya were aware of its properties and, what is more, this clay was closely related to socio-cultural aspects of the Mayan culture.

"Present day native communities on the Yucatan Peninsula are familiar with and use palygorskite clay for a variety of purposes, ranging from making candles on All Saints' Day and household and artistic pottery to remedies for mumps, stomach and pregnancy pains and dysentery," Sánchez del Río explained to SINC. Nowadays, modern pharmacology uses clays like palygorskite to produce anti-diarrhoea medicine, a remedy the Maya began to use more than a thousand years ago.

However, palygorskite was mostly used to make the Maya blue pigment, which is produced by mixing indigo, an organic dye obtained from the plant of the same name, with a base of palygorskite clay. The resulting compound is extraordinarily resistant to chemical and environmental elements.
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« Reply #13 on: April 20, 2009, 07:14:42 pm »










Archaeological sites

The researchers found samples of high-purity palygorskite clay in several locations on the Yucatan Peninsula, in a 40 km radius of the well-known Maya archaeological site of Uxmal. Some of these locations are well documented, but others have been discovered for the first time during this expedition.

The fact that this clay was abundant among the samples collected confirms that the mineral is common on the peninsula.

Crystal-chemical analysis then enabled researchers to obtain the formula for the composition of Mayan palygorskite clay: (Si7.96Al0.07)O20 (Al1.59Fe3+0.20Mg2.25) (OH)2 (OH2)4Ca0.02Na0.02K0.04 4(H20).

These results will be useful for studying archaeological remains with Maya blue and to determine whether the palygorskite clay used in the pigment was taken from Uxmal or the surrounding area.

Maya Blue was invented between the 6th and the 8th Century and can be found in sculptures, fresco paintings, codices and pre-Columbian decorations across Mesoamerica, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. It was used during the colonial period to paint frescos in churches and convents. Maya blue was rediscovered in 1931 and scientists were baffled by the stability and persistence of this colour found on objects dating back to pre-Columbian times.

This thousand-year-old pigment, which has proven immune to the passage of time, erosion, biodegradation and modern solvents, is considered the forerunner of modern hybrid materials, compounds of organic and inorganic design with interesting properties for use in high technology.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Adapted from materials provided by Plataforma SINC, via AlphaGalileo.
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