Lustrous pigments behind Mayan buildings' splendour

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Washington, January 24 : Ancient Mayan temple builders used lustrous pigments to make their buildings dazzle in the daylight, says a Queensland University of Technology researcher.

Rosemary Goodall, a physical and chemical sciences PhD researcher, studied tiny shards of paint from the Mayan city of Copan.

Based on her observations, Rosemary reckoned that mica would have made the buildings glitter when hit by the sun.

She says that the mica was applied over the red paint of stucco masks on the corners of Copan's well-preserved Rosalila temple, found buried under another pyramid.

"The Rosalila would have been one of the highest buildings of the valley in its time, built by the Maya ruler to exhibit his power and impress his subjects," she said.

Rosemary has even found two new pigments at the famous Maya archaeological and tourist site in Honduras, Central America.

"I discovered a green pigment and a mica pigment that would have had a lustrous effect. I'm sure that when the sun hit it, it must have sparkled. It must have had the most amazing appearance," said the researcher.

Rosemary pointed out that site of Copan was first populated in 1600 BC, but it was not until the cultural heyday of AD 400-800 that the Rosalila was built. Mystery surrounds the Maya people, who had largely disappeared by about AD 900.

She revealed that she used a novel analysis technique to examine tiny paint samples from the structure.

"I used an infrared analysis technique, called FTIR-ATR spectral imaging, which has not been used for archaeology before. Using this technique and Raman spectroscopy I found the 'signature' of each mineral in paint samples only millimetres in size," she said.

"The Rosalila has more than 15 layers of paint and stucco. Knowing the mineral make-up of the pigments tells us what colours were painted on each layer. I also found the stucco changed over time. It became more refined and changed in colour from grey to white," she added.

Proclaiming the Rosalila a fine example of the Copan buildings, Rosemary said that the temple was coated in stucco then filled with rubble and a larger pyramid was built around it, keeping it brilliantly preserved inside.

"The next step of my research will be to take a portable Raman spectrometer to Copan to undertake more paint analysis," she said.

"The research will help determine the best ways to conserve the Copan ruins - by understanding what's there, you can suggest ways to stop damage, and the tests do not destroy the samples," she added.

ANI

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