Mayas | March 9, 2012
– March 9, 2012 – Film maker Jon Haskell of Carmel, Indiana became bored this week on he and his wife’s small horse farm near Indianapolis. After being in Honduras for two weeks to film a documentary, he was back to the reality of late winter in Indiana; punctuated by a rash of killer tornadoes in his state. His infinite curiosity happened to turn that day to the subject of the mineral, mica. He was trying to find a location from where the Maya could have imported the vast amounts of mica that they used in cosmetics, mirrors and additives for stucco. There are no mica deposits in the Maya’s homeland, and very few in Mexico. That led him in the Wikipedia online encyclopedia to the states of North Carolina and Georgia, where mica is mined commercially today
Studying the mica deposits in Georgia somehow led to the subject of Georgia clays. Clay is one that state’s most important exports. Georgia clays are characterized by a wide variety of colors and chemical characteristics. Somewhere along the Wikipedia trail, Haskell stumbled onto a clay with the odd name of attapulgite, also known as palygorskite. He continued reading the article:
“The name attapulgite is derived from the U.S. town of Attapulgus, Georgia, in the extreme southwest corner of the state, where the mineral is abundant. It is known to have been a key constituent of the pigment called "Maya Blue", which was used notably by the pre-Columbian Maya civilization of Mesoamerica on ceramics, sculptures, murals and (most probably) Maya textiles. The clay mineral was also used by the Maya as a curative for certain illnesses, and there is evidence to show it was also added to pottery temper.“
After searching for centuries, Mexican scholars found a cenote (sink hole) in the State of Yucatan in the 1960s that contained attapulgite. The small cenote seemed far inadequate to have furnished all of the Maya cities with their blue pigment for 1,800 years. Mexican geologists and archaeologists have
been searching South America since then for a major deposit of attapulgite. They should have looked northward. Attapulgus, GA is much closer than South America, and adjacent to the Chattahoochee, a major navigable river that flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
The town of Attapulgus, GA is derived from the name of an earlier Creek Indian town named Atapaw-lekhuse,which means “wooden stirring-paddle-very hot.” The name may refer to the heating and stirring of raw attapulgite clay that is required to chemically change it into Maya Blue pigment. It is located near Bainbridge in Decatur County, GA. Lake Seminole now covers much of the bottomlands of Decatur County where there were formerly Native American towns.
The locations of the attapulgite mines are close to one of North America’s earliest indigenous towns, Kolomoki. It was lived in from approximately 250 AD to 950 AD, which happens to coincide with the occupation period of several Classic Period Maya cities, Kolomoki contained approximately 2,000 residents and at least eight mounds. Anthropologists believe that Kolomoki’s population swelled during seasonal markets and festivals. Hopewell Culture sites in the Ohio Valley were contemporary with Kolomoki, but did not contain many permanent residents.
Chemical analysis is needed for proof
Haskell contacted friends in architecture and archaeology to get their response. It was uniformly, “Oh my gosh . . . the answer to the Maya Blue riddle was always in the Wikipedia?"
An acquaintance, who was an archaeologist in the Midwest, advised him that a chemical analysis of both the attapulgite in Georgia and the Maya Blue from several Maya ruins would be required to absolutely confirm the source. However, there is no other known large deposit of attapulgite in the Western Hemisphere that could be directly loaded on to cargo boats and then shipped straight to the Yucatan Peninsula along coastal waterways.
A newsletter describing Haskell’s discovery went out to archaeologists and historians around North America on March 7, 2012. The mining of Maya Blue’s main ingredient is not a “definite yes,” but the probability is such that it stopped the presses on a recently published book on the Mayas that day. A second edition was quickly created to include a description of strong likelihood of Maya Blue coming from the “metropolis” of Attapulgus, Georgia.
Attapulgite is also a medicine. The clay has another name when used as a remedy for diarrhea. It’s kaopectate!
Boredom, curiosity and the internet can be a dangerous combination in the 21st century.