Researches Learn from Infrared Technology

Ancient Maya rulers knew a thing or two about pizzazz.

Some 1,500 years later, we still marvel at the stone temples they built. Now, according new findings, we have even more to marvel at.

The temples – known today for their massive size, shape and astronomical alignment – once literally dazzled in daylight.

Rosemary Goodall, a Queensland University of Technology researcher, attributes the effect to two special pigments the Mayan builders used.

Goodall applied a new analysis technique to examine tiny paint samples from a once vibrantly-coloured Rosalila temple in the Mayan city of Copan – a famous tourist site in Honduras, Central America.

“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,” Ms Goodall said.

The Rosalila

Using special infrared technology called the FTIR-ATR spectral imaging and Raman spectroscopy, Goodall found that the temple had more than 15 layers of paint and stucco.

She also found the “signature” of each mineral in the paints from samples measuring only millimetres in size.

“The mineral make-up of the pigments tells us what colours were painted on each layer,” says Goodall.

“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”

Goodall also found that the stucco changed over time. It became more refined and changed in colour from grey to white.

Next steps

While the information will allow historians (and Hollywood) to more accurately depict these ancient structures, the research will also help better preserve what’s left of the ruins.

“By understanding what’s there, you can suggest ways to stop damage,” says Goodall, noting that her tests did not destroy the samples she used.

The Maya

The site of Copan was first populated in 1600 BC, but research indicates that it wasn’t until about AD 400-800 that the Rosalila temple was built.

Mystery surrounds the civilization, which largely disappeared by about AD 900.

by: Dragana Kovacevic

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