Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jadelike Mayan Pigment Discovered

Mayan burial mask showing jade mosaic.

Researchers have concluded the Mayans used a blue-green pigment called veszelyite – until now unknown to art historians – to blend with, or possibly imitate, jade.

Jade is the most precious substance found on Mayan artifacts. Tombs excavated during the 1990s in the Yucatan peninsula revealed items such as a jade mosaic funerary mask belonging to the ruler Yuknoom Yick’aak K’ak – translated as “Smoking Jaguar Paw” – who reigned from 686 to 695. On the mask, the jade plaques were set into a white lime stucco painted green to match the jade. Several other jade items were found in nearby tombs, all with the green-tinted stucco into which pieces of jade were set.

Archaeologists and other researchers previously believed the green pigment was derived from malachite or chrysocolla, but that assumption was recently refuted when the pigment was analyzed with X-ray diffraction, proton-induced X-ray emission and a scanning electron microscope. Use of veszelyite “had never been reported for any civilization, to our knowledge,” said Dr. R. Garcia Morena in the latest issue of the journal Archaeometry.

Veszelyite is found in Europe, Japan, Africa and Mexico. The pigment in the stucco of the Mayan artifacts was determined to be from the state of Puebla, southeast of Mexico City.

Click here for the article in the London Times Online.

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