Settlements of Historic Maya were being Contaminated with Mercury, Experts Say

The historic Maya in Mesoamerica used mercury — predominantly cinnabar, but rarely elemental mercury — for decorative and ceremonial reasons, according to a team of archaeologists from Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

A cinnabar-painted vessel from the Maya web page of Kaminaljuyu in southern Guatemala. Image credit history: Kidder et al, / Cook et al., doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2022.986119.

Mercury is a toxic pollutant that has an effect on human and ecosystem overall health.

Elevated mercury concentrations in the area units of our earth are mostly connected with rising industrialization and urbanization.

Mining and fossil-gas energy era pursuits are liable for at minimum fifty percent of recognised world-wide mercury emissions right now.

The biking of mercury by way of the setting is driven by modern emissions such as these, but also includes re-mobilized legacy mercury from earlier anthropogenic pursuits.

An essential example of a multi-millennial record of mercury use is from existing-working day Mexico and Central The united states, the place the Maya utilised mercury for a lot of hundreds of years just before European call in the 16th century.

The doable environmental consequence of this extended, region-extensive preindustrial mercury use is still to be investigated.

“Mercury pollution in the setting is typically observed in contemporary city locations and industrial landscapes,” mentioned Dr. Duncan Cook dinner, a researcher at the Australian Catholic University.

“Discovering mercury buried deep in soils and sediments in historic Maya metropolitan areas is tough to demonstrate, until eventually we start out to contemplate the archeology of the region which tells us that the Maya had been utilizing mercury for hundreds of years.”

In the new study, Dr. Cook dinner and his colleagues reviewed all knowledge on mercury concentrations in soil and sediments at Maya archeological web sites in lowland Guatemala, Belize, the Yucatan of Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras.

They identified that at the web-sites of Chunchumil in present-day Mexico, Marco Gonzales, Chan b’i, and Actuncan in Belize, La Corona, Tikal, Petén Itzá, Piedras Negras, and Cancuén in Guatemala, Palmarejo in Honduras, and Cerén in El Salvador , mercury pollution was detectable just about everywhere apart from at Chan b’i.

Concentrations ranged from .016 ppm at Actuncan to an incredible 17.16 ppm at Tikal. For comparison, the Toxic Outcome Threshold (TET) for mercury in sediments is defined as 1 ppm.

“The historical Maya often applied cinnabar and mercury-made up of paints and powders for decoration,” the researchers said.

“This mercury could then have leached from patios, floor locations, walls, and ceramics, and then spread into the soil and h2o.”

“For the Maya, objects could incorporate ch’ulel, or soul-drive, which resided in blood,” stated University of Cincinnati’s Professor Nicholas Dunning.

“Hence, the amazing red pigment of cinnabar was an a must have and sacred compound, but unbeknownst to them it was also lethal and its legacy persists in soils and sediments around historic Maya websites.”

As mercury is unusual in the limestone that underlies significantly of the Maya location, the authors speculate that elemental mercury and cinnabar observed at Maya sites could have been originally mined from identified deposits on the northern and southern confines of the historic Maya entire world, and imported to the cities by traders.

All this mercury would have posed a wellbeing hazard for the historical Maya: for instance, the outcomes of persistent mercury poisoning include problems to the central anxious method, kidneys, and liver, and lead to tremors, impaired eyesight and listening to, paralysis, and psychological wellbeing problems.

It truly is most likely substantial that one of the past Maya rulers of Tikal, Darkish Solar, who dominated around 810 CE, is depicted in frescoes as pathologically overweight.

Obesity is a regarded outcome of metabolic syndrome, which can be brought about by continual mercury poisoning.

“We conclude that even the historic Maya, who barely utilised metals, brought about mercury concentrations to be enormously elevated in their natural environment,” explained College of Texas at Austin’s Professor Tim Seashore.

“This consequence is nonetheless additional evidence that just like we stay currently in the ‘Anthropocene,’ there was also a ‘Maya anthropocene’ or ‘Mayacene.’ Metallic contamination appears to be to have been impact of human action through history.”

The team’s paper was revealed in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science,


Duncan E. Prepare dinner et al, Novel Insights into Mercury Resources and Habits in the Floor Earth Ecosystem. Entrance. Approximativement. sci, revealed on line September 23, 2022 doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2022.986119

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