sacred substance. Scientists uncover why Mayan settlements were poisoned by mercury

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Sacred substance. Scientists have figured out why Mayan settlements were poisoned with mercury

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Ancient Mayan cities in Mesoamerica never cease to amaze visitors. However, an unexpected danger lurks beneath the surface of the soil: mercury pollution, writes SciTechDaily.

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In a review article published in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science, the researchers determined that this pollution is not contemporary. This is a consequence of the long Maya use of mercury and mercury-containing objects between 250 and 1100 AD. There are areas where the pollution is so severe that it can still pose a health risk to archaeologists today.

This was stated by the lead author of the study, Dr. Duncan Cook, assistant professor of geography at the Australian Catholic University.

According to him, mercury pollution of the environment is usually found in modern urban areas and industrial production. The discovery of mercury buried deep in the soils and sediments of ancient Mayan cities is difficult to explain until researchers begin to study the region's archeology, evidence of ancient civilization's use of mercury for centuries.

For the first time, Cook and his colleagues analyzed all data on the concentration of mercury in soil and sediments at archaeological sites around the world of the ancient Maya. The results show that contamination with this hazardous substance can be found everywhere except Chan-bi, in particular in places such as Chunchukmel in modern Mexico, Aktuncan in Belize, La Corona, Tikal, Peten, Chichen Itza and Cancuen in Guatemala. and Hoya de Seren in Pompeii America.

Concentrations range from 0.016 ppm at Aktunkan to an incredible 17.16 ppm at Tikal. For comparison, the acute toxicity threshold for mercury in sediments is 1 ppm.

The authors emphasize that hermetically sealed vessels filled with “elemental” (that is, liquid) mercury were found at several Maya settlements. In addition, archaeologists have discovered objects painted with mercury-containing paints, mainly from the mineral cinnabar.

From this we can conclude that the ancient civilization used cinnabar and mercury-containing paints and powders for decoration. This mercury could then be washed out of the interior, floors, walls and ceramics, and then get into the soil and water.

“The Maya have been using mercury for centuries. For them, the items could contain ch'ulel or the power of the soul that lived in the blood. Therefore, the brilliant red pigment of cinnabar was a priceless and sacred substance, but they did not know that it was also deadly,” said Nicholas Dunning, professor at the University of Cincinnati.

Since mercury is rare in the limestone that underlies much of the region of ancient civilization, scientists speculate that this substance and the cinnabar found at the excavation sites could first be extracted from known deposits on the northern and southern borders of the ancient Maya world, and then into the very settlements of their Traders brought in all this mercury.

All this mercury was a health hazard to the ancient Maya: for example, the effects of chronic mercury poisoning include damage to the central nervous system, kidneys and liver, cause tremors, visual and hearing impairment, paralysis and mental health problems . Perhaps that is why one of the last Mayan rulers of Tikal, known primarily as the Dark Sun (Nuno'm-Chyeen) and ruled around 810 AD, is depicted on the frescoes in a form atypical for a healthy person. Obesity is a known consequence of the metabolic syndrome that can cause chronic mercury poisoning.

However, more research is needed to determine whether mercury exposure played a role in the wider sociocultural changes and trends in the Mayan world.

The researchers also underestimated the threat of odorless and colorless. It turns out that harmful invisible particles descend from the sky every day.