Friday, September 30, 2022

Ancient Maya cities had been dangerously contaminated with mercury

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The cities of the traditional Maya in Mesoamerica by no means fail to impress. But beneath the soil floor, an surprising hazard lurks there: mercury air pollution. In a evaluation article in Frontiers in Environmental Science, researchers conclude that this air pollution is not fashionable: it is because of the frequent use of mercury and mercury-containing merchandise by the Maya of the Classic Period, between 250 and 1100 CE. This air pollution is in locations so heavy that even immediately, it pose a possible well being hazard for unwary archeologists.

Lead creator Dr. Duncan Cook, an affiliate professor of Geography on the Australian Catholic University, mentioned: “Mercury pollution in the environment is usually found in contemporary urban areas and industrial landscapes. Discovering mercury buried deep in soils and sediments in ancient Maya cities is difficult to explain, until we begin to consider the archeology of the region which tells us that the Maya were using mercury for centuries.”

Ancient anthropogenic air pollution

For the primary time, Cook and colleagues right here reviewed all knowledge on mercury concentrations in soil and sediments at archeological websites throughout the traditional Maya world. They present that at websites from the Classical Period for which measurements can be found— Chunchumil in immediately’s 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, a Mesoamerican ‘Pompeii’, in El Salvador –mercury air pollution is detectable in all places besides at Chan b’i.

Concentrations vary from 0.016 ppm at Actuncan to a unprecedented 17.16 ppm at Tikal. For comparability, the Toxic Effect Threshold (TET) for mercury in sediments is outlined as 1 ppm.

Heavy customers of mercury

What induced this prehistoric mercury air pollution? The authors spotlight that sealed vessels full of ‘elemental’ (ie, liquid) mercury have been discovered at a number of Maya websites, for instance Quiriqua in Guatemala, El Paraíso in Honduras, and the previous multi-ethnic megacity Teotihucan in Central Mexico. Elsewhere within the Maya area, archeologists have discovered objects painted with mercury-containing paints, primarily created from the mineral cinnabar.

The authors conclude that the traditional Maya ceaselessly used cinnabar and mercury-containing paints and powders for adornment. This mercury may then have leached from patios, ground areas, partitions, and ceramics, and subsequently unfold into the soil and water.

“For the Maya, objects could contain ch’ulel, or soul-force, which resided in blood. Hence, the brilliant red pigment of cinnabar was an invaluable and sacred substance, but unbeknownst to them it was also deadly and its legacy persists in soils and sediments around ancient Maya sites,” mentioned co-author Dr. Nicholas Dunning, a professor on the University of Cincinnati.

As mercury is uncommon within the limestone that underlies a lot of the Maya area, they speculate that elemental mercury and cinnabar discovered at Maya websites may have been initially mined from identified deposits on the northern and southern confines of the traditional Maya world, and imported to the cities by merchants.

Health hazards and the ‘Mayacene’

All this mercury would have posed a well being hazard for the traditional Maya: for instance, the results of continual mercury poisoning embrace injury to the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver, and trigger tremors, impaired imaginative and prescient and listening to, paralysis, and psychological well being issues. It’s maybe important that one of many final Maya rulers of Tikal, Dark Sun, who dominated round 810 CE, is depicted in frescoes as pathologically overweight. Obesity is a identified impact of metabolic syndrome, which will be attributable to continual mercury poisoning.

More analysis is required to find out whether or not mercury publicity performed a job in bigger sociocultural change and developments within the Maya world, resembling these in the direction of the top of the Classic Period.

Co-author Dr. Tim Beach, a professor on the University of Texas at Austin, mentioned: “We conclude that even the ancient Maya, who barely used metals, caused mercury concentrations to be greatly elevated in their environment. This result is yet more evidence that just like we live today in the ‘Anthropocene’, there also was a ‘Maya anthropocene’ or ‘Mayacene’. Metal contamination seems to have been effect of human activity through history.”

Ancient Maya reservoirs contained poisonous air pollution: examine

More data:
Environmental legacy of pre-Columbian Maya mercury, Frontiers in Environmental Science (2022). DOI: 10.3389/fenvs.2022.986119

Ancient Maya cities had been dangerously contaminated with mercury (2022, September 23)
retrieved 23 September 2022

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