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Tech & Science More than 2,000 years old: How the Maya built one of the first water filters in the world

20:15  27 october  2020
20:15  27 october  2020 Source:   businessinsider.de

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When people talk about innovative pioneers, many immediately think of ancient Greece, Rome, China or India. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have now found out, however, that it was the ancient Maya who developed the first water filter system in human history. Their discovery was published in the journal " Scientific Reports ".

Around 2,000 years ago, the ancient Maya lived in the city of Tikal, which is in what is now northern Guatemala. There is also the Corriental Reservoir, where an interdisciplinary team of geographers, biologists and anthropologists from the University of Cincinnati have now found traces of an ancient, highly developed Mayan water filter.

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The filter was made of natural materials that are still used today for water filtration and are effective. The researchers found that the Maya used quartz and zeolite, which contain aluminum and silicon, to filter toxins from the water. Because when the two substances combine, then according to Kenneth Barnett Tankersley - one of the study authors and professor of anthropology - a kind of natural sieve is created that removes harmful and nitrogen-rich compounds and heavy metals such as mercury from the water.

Clean water was vital for the Maya

This water purification system was developed by the Maya long before similar well-known innovations in, for example, Greece, Egypt or South Asia.

For the ancient Maya it was vital to find ways to collect and also to conserve clean water. In addition to toxins and bacteria in the water, the Maya also had the problem that cities like Tikal were often built on limestone, which is very permeable. This makes it difficult to access drinking water, especially during long periods of drought. The Maya lived in a tropical environment and therefore had to be particularly innovative.

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Nicholas Dunning, study author and professor of geography, suspects that the Maya first learned how certain minerals make water clean and fresh through exposed volcanic rock at a water source.

They often transport minerals for miles to Tikal

As soon as the Maya discovered this effect of minerals in the water, they tried to bring the clean water back and store it. Therefore, they transported zeolite and quartz miles from the ridge of the Bajo de Azúcar, which is around 30 kilometers north of Tikal, to the reservoir. Scientists at the University of Cincinnati found this out using X-ray analysis and samples, since the minerals in Tikal were similar to the quartz and zeolite of the Bajo de Azúcar.

Vernon Scarborough, anthropology professor and another study author says: "The quality of water used for drinking water is still difficult to determine". The team's study opens the research agenda by identifying the quality of a water source and how it could have been made and maintained.

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Still, it remains difficult to pinpoint the exact habits and motivations of civilizations thousands of years old, including how they stored and transmitted water. Because the researchers have only circumstantial evidence, no evidence.

"That's what you have to do as an archaeologist," says biologist David Lentz, who was also involved in the research. "You have to put together a puzzle with some of the pieces missing."

  Über 2.000 Jahre alt: Wie die Maya einen der ersten Wasserfilter der Welt bauten © Provided by Business Insider Germany

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Pyramid of Tikal, a famous mayan site in Guatemala © Kitti Boonnitrod / Getty Images Pyramid of Tikal, a famous mayan site in Guatemala

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