Skip to main content Accessibility help

The first direct evidence for the production of Maya Blue: rediscovery of a technology

  • Dean E. Arnold (a1), Jason R. Branden (a2), Patrick Ryan Williams (a3), Gary M. Feinman (a3) and J. P. Brown (a3)...

Maya Blue is a colour that is more than a pigment; it had roles in status, ritual and performance, being daubed onto pots and people before sacrifice. Here researchers use experimental and historical evidence to discover how it was made, including direct scientific analysis of Maya Blue on a pot thrown into the sacred well at Chichén Itzá. The results indicate that the formation of the colour was actually part of the ritual.

Hide All
Anda Alanís, G. de. 2007. Sacrifice and ritual body mutilation in Postclassical Maya society: taphonomy of the human remains from Chichén Itzá's Cenote Sagrado, in Tiesler, V. & Cucina, A. (ed.) New Perspectives on Human Sacrifice and Ritual Body Treatments in Ancient Maya Society: 190208. New York: Springer.
Arnold, D.E. 1967. Sak lu'um in Maya culture and its possible relationship to Maya Blue (Department of Anthropology Research Reports 2). Urbana (IL): University of Illinois.
Arnold, D.E. 1971. Ethnomineralogy of Ticul, Yucatán potters: etics and emics. American Antiquity 36: 2040.
Arnold, D.E. 1987. The evidence for pre-Columbian indigo in the New World. Antropología y Técnica 2: 5384. Mexico, D. F.: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
Arnold, D.E. 2005. Maya Blue and palygorskite: a second possible pre-Columbian source. Ancient Mesoamerica 16: 5162.
Arnold, D.E. & Bohor, B.F.. 1975. Attapulgite and Maya Blue: an ancient mine comes to light. Archaeology 28 (January): 23–9.
Arnold, D.E. & Bohor, B.F.. 1976. An ancient attapulgite mine in Yucatán. Katunob 8 (4) (June 1974): 2534.
Arnold, D.E., Neff, H., Glascock, M.D. & Speakman, R.J.. 2007. Sourcing the palygorskite used in Maya Blue: a pilot study comparing the results of INAA and LA-ICP-MS. Latin American Antiquity 18 (1): 4458.
Ball, J. & Ladd, J.. 1992. Ceramics, in Coggins, C.C. (ed.) Artifacts from the Cenote of Sacrifice, Chichén Itzá, Yucatán (Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University, 10/3): 191233. Cambridge (MA): Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University.
Cabrera Garrido, J.M. 1969. El ‘Azul Maya’ (Informes y Trabajos del Instituto de Conservación y Restauración de Obras de Arte, Arqueología y Etnología 8). Madrid.
Carroll, D. 1970. Clay Minerals: a guide to their x-ray identification (Geological Society of America Special Paper 126). Boulder (CO): Geological Society of America.
Chianelli, R.R., Perez de L Rosa, M., Meitzner, G., Siadati, M., Berhault, G., Mehta, A., Pople, J., Fuentes, S., Alonzo-Nunez, G. & Polette, L.A.. 2005. Synchrotron and simulations techniques applied to problems in materials science: catalysts and azul Maya pigments. Journal of Synchrotron Radiation 12: 129–34.
Chiari, G., Giustetto, R. & Ricchiardi, G.. 2003. Crystal structure refinements of palygorskite and Maya Blue from molecular modelling and powder synchrotron diffraction. European Journal of Mineralogy 15: 2133.
Coggins, C.C. 1992. Dredging the Cenote, in Coggins, C.C. (ed.) Artifacts from the Cenote of Sacrifice, Chichén Itzá, Yucatán (Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University, 10/3): 931. Cambridge (MA): Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University.
Coggins, C.C. & Ladd, J.M.. 1992. Wooden artifacts, in Coggins, C.C. (ed.) Artifacts from the Cenote of Sacrifice, Chichén Itzá, Yucatán (Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University, 10/3): 235344. Cambridge (MA): Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University.
Fernández, M.E., Ascencio, J.A., Mendoza-Anaya, D., Rodríguez Lugo, V. & José-Yacamán, M.. 1999. Experimental and theoretical studies of palygorskite clays. Journal of Materials Science 34: 5243–55.
Fois, E., Gamba, A. & Tilocca, A.. 2003. On the unusual stability of Maya Blue paint: molecular dynamics simulations. Microporous and Mesoporous Materials 57: 263–72.
Folan, W.J. 1969. Sacalum, Yucatán: a pre-Hispanic and contemporary source of attapulgite. American Antiquity 34: 182–3.
Galan, E. 1996. Properties and applications of palygorskite-sepiolite clays. Clay Minerals 31: 443–53.
Gettens, R.J. 1955. Identification of pigments of mural paintings from Bonampak, Chiapas, Mexico, in Ruppert, K., Thompson, J.E.S. & Proskouriakoff, T. (ed.) Bonampak, Chiapas, Mexico (Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 602): 67. Washington (D.C.): Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Gettens, R.J. 1962. Maya Blue: an unsolved problem in ancient pigments. American Antiquity 27: 557–64.
Giustetto, R., Llabrés i Xamena, F.X., Ricchiardi, G., Bordiga, S., Damin, A., Gobetto, R. & Chierotti, M.R.. 2005. Maya Blue: a computational and spectroscopic study. Journal of Physical Chemistry B 190 (41): 19360–8.
Haude, M.E. 1998. Identification of colorants on maps from the early Colonial period of New Spain (Mexico). Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 37: 240–70.
Hooton, E.A. 1940. Skeletons from the Cenote of Sacrifice at Chichén Itzá, in Hay, C.L., Linton, R., Lothrop, S.K., Shapiro, H. & Vaillant, G.C. (ed.) Maya and Their Neighbors: Essays on Middle American Anthropology and Archaeology: 272–80. New York: Appleton Century.
Hubbard, B., Kuang, W., Moser, A., Facey, G.A. & Detellier, C.. 2003. Structural study of Maya Blue: textural, thermal, and solid-state multinuclear magnetic resonance characterization of the palygorskite-indigo and sepiolite-indigo adducts. Clays and Clay Minerals 51: 318–26.
José-Yacamán, M. & Serra Puche, M.C.. 1995. High resolution electron microscopy of Maya Blue paint. Materials Research Society Symposium Proceedings 352: 311. Pittsburgh (PA): Materials Research Society.
José-Yacamán, M., Rendón, L., Arenas, J. & Serra Puche, M.C.. 1996. Maya Blue paint: an ancient nanostructured material. Science 273: 223–5.
Kleber, R., Masschelein-Kleiner, L. & Thissen, J.. 1967. Etude et identification du ‘Bleu Maya’. Studies in Conservation 12: 4156.
Littmann, E.R. 1982. Maya Blue – further perspectives and the possible use of indigo as the colorant. American Antiquity 47: 404–8.
Merwin, H.E. 1931. Chemical analysis of pigments, in Morris, E.H., Charlot, J. & Morris, A.A. (ed.) The Temple of the Warriors at Chicken Itzá, Yucatán (Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 406): 355–6. Washington (D.C.): Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Miller, M. & Martin, S.. 2004. Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. London: Thames & Hudson.
Ortega, M., Ascencio, J.A., San Germán, C.M., Fernández, M.E., López, L. & José-Yacamán, M.. 2001a. Analysis of prehispanic pigments from ‘Templo Mayor’ of Mexico City. Journal of Materials Science 36: 751–6.
Ortega-Avilés, M., San-Germán, C.M., Mendoza-Anaya, D., Morales, D. & José-Yacamán, M.. 2001b. Characterization of mural paintings from Cacaxtla. Journal of Materials Science 36: 2227–36.
Polette, L., Ugarte, N. & Chianelli, R.. 2000. In-situ identification of palygorskite in Maya Blue samples using synchrotron x-ray powder diffraction. Presented at the Workshop on Synchrotron Radiation in Art and Archaeology, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL), 18 October 2000. Accessed at on March 11, 2005.
Reinen, D., Köhl, P. & Müller, C.. 2004. The nature of the colour centres in ‘Maya Blue’ - the incorporation of organic pigment molecules into the palygorskite lattice. Zeitschrift für Anorganische und Allgemeine Chemie 630: 97103.
Reyes-Valerio, C. 1993. De Bonampak al Templo Mayor: El Azul Maya en Mesoamérica (Colección América nuestra 40). Mexico, D.F.: Siglo Veintiuno/Agro Asemex.
Sánchez del Río, M., Martinetto, P., Somogyi, A., Reyes-Valerio, C., Dooryhée, E., Peltier, N., Alianelli, L., Moignard, B., Pichon, L., Calligaro, T. & Dran, J.-C.. 2004. Microanalysis study of archaeological mural samples containing Maya Blue pigment. Spectrochimica Acta Part B. 59: 1619–25.
Sánchez del Río, M., Martinetto, P., Reyes-Valerio, C., Dooryhée, E. & Suarez, M.. 2006. Synthesis and acid resistance of Maya Blue pigment. Archaeometry 48 (1): 115–30.
Shepard, A.O. 1962. Maya Blue: alternative hypotheses. American Antiquity 27: 565–6.
Shepard, A.O. & Gottlieb, H.B.. 1962. Maya Blue: alternative hypotheses (Notes from a Ceramic Laboratory 1) Washington (D.C.): Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Shepard, A.O. & Pollock, H.E.D.. 1971. Maya Blue: an updated record (Notes from a Ceramic Laboratory 4). Washington (D.C.): Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Smith, R.E. 1971. The Pottery of Mayapan (Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology 66, Parts 1 & 2). Cambridge (MA): Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University.
Stross, B. 2007. Mesoamerican copal resins. Paper in Mesoamerican Ethnobotany, Anthropology 393. Accessed at on July 25, 2007.
Tagle, A.A., Paschinger, H., Richard, H. & Infante, G.. 1990. Maya Blue: its presence in Cuban Colonial wall paintings. Studies in Conservation 35: 156–9.
Torres, L.M. 1988. Maya Blue: how the Mayas could have made the pigment. Materials Issues in Art and Archaeology, Proceedings of the Materials Research Society 123: 123–8. Pittsburgh (PA): Materials Research Society.
Tozzer, A.M. 1941 [1566]. Landa's Relación de los Cosas de Yucatán: a Translation (Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology Harvard 18.). Cambridge (MA): Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University.
Tozzer, A.M. 1957. Chichén Itzá and its Cenote of Sacrifice: A Comparative Study of the Contemporaneous Maya and Toltec (Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology Harvard University, 11 & 12). Cambridge (MA): Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University.
Van Olphen, H. 1966. Maya Blue: a clay-organic pigment? Science 154: 645–6.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed