Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Water Filtration Systems: The Maya Way

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Water, Watersheds, Sustainability, Technology, Archaeology, Pollution

Ed Hessler

In Smithsonian Magazine you can read a report about the complexity of a Maya water filtration system first developed more than 2000 years ago. "[R]researchers conducting excavations at the ancient city of Tikal in northern Guatemala have discovered traces of this millennia-old engineering marvel.. ... (It was constructed" not long after the settlement of Tikal began around 300 B. C."

It made use of crystalline quartz and zeolite (consists of silicon and aluminum) "to create...a molecular sieve capable of removing harmful microbes, heavy metals and other pollutants. (This system) remained in use until the city's abandonment around 1100. Today, the same minerals are used in modern water filtration systems." The use of zeolite in water purification systems has been thought to be a modern invention--the 20th century. 

This essay discusses other water purification systems developed much later in the northern hemisphere but not as sophisticated and speculates that this system was developed based on empirical observation, as well as reasons for water management practices. You may wonder about the need for removal of heavy metals, likely a side benefit of the use of zeolite filtering. The Maya painted many of their structures with mercury-laden paints.

The essay highlights some of the engineering practices found in the Next Generation Science Standards, too. There is a diagram showing how the system worked.

The Maya were millenia ahead of moderns and responded to a need, one solved by engineering and some science (the observation the water managers noticed).

Remarkable story; remarkable find, one that highlights inventiveness of humans.


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