The study of the ruins of the ancient Mayan cities in Mesoamerica led scientists to an unexpected conclusion: the objects are an environmental hazard, because … they are contaminated with mercury!

Everything is explained by the fact that representatives of this civilization from 250 to 1100 AD often used products and substances that included harmful metal. An article on this topic was published in Frontiers in Environmental Science.

Insidious cinnabar

We are talking about the cities of Chunchumil on the territory of modern Mexico, La Corona, Tikal and Peten Itza in Guatemala and many others. The concentration of mercury is exceeded almost everywhere.

The study’s lead author, Professor of Geography at the Australian Catholic University, Dr Duncan Cook, comments: “Environmental mercury pollution is commonly seen in modern urban areas and industrial landscapes.”

But what could cause such an effect in a very ancient era? In some Maya settlements, for example, in

  • Quiricua (Guatemala)
  • El Paraiso (Honduras)
  • Teotiucan (Central Mexico)

sealed vessels with liquid mercury were found, and in other places in the region, archaeologists found objects treated with dyes containing mercury. Basically, it was mineral cinnabar.

Scientists believe that as a result of alkaline reactions, mercury could enter the environment and end up in water and soil. Another co-author of the study, professor at the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Nicholas Dunning, believes that sacred properties could be attributed to the same cinnabar, since the Mayans deified many artifacts.

Since mercury is rare in these regions, most likely, cinnabar was “imported” and not made locally. Did the Maya know that mercury was poisonous? It’s hard to say.

slow kill

As you know, mercury poisoning causes damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys, tremors, visual and hearing impairments. Frequent mental problems. In severe cases, paralysis occurs.

One of the manifestations of pathology is metabolic disorders. The researchers drew attention to the fact that the ruler of Tikal, whose name is translated from the Mayan language as the Dark Sun (he ruled around 810 AD), looks pathologically obese in the frescoes. It is possible that his obesity was caused by chronic mercury poisoning.

The nuance is that the symptoms of mercury poisoning, as a rule, appear only in case of systematic contact with this metal, or in the presence of a very large dose of it in the body or the environment. In the case of the Maya, the first variant probably occurred, with poisoning in small doses over a long period.

Reason for extinction?

Even when the Maya stopped using mercury-containing materials as much, the concentration of the metal in their environment remained high. Perhaps this ultimately led to the death of civilization: the health of the race was deteriorating, and this affected genetics.

“Metal pollution seems to have been the result of human activity throughout history,” said University of Texas at Austin professor Dr. Tim Beach.

By the way, even now the concentration of mercury in the Mayan settlements remains dangerous for people. Surely this is observed in other regions of the planet, but research is not carried out everywhere. No wonder there are so few healthy people in the world.