Ancient Mayas Ahead of Their Time, Filtering Water Through Minerals

The oldest concept of water purification might no longer be Europe's.
Deniz Yildiran
Ancient Tikal city.marcophotos/iStock

Humans have always needed water to survive since the beginning of their civilization; wherever they attempted to settle, there had to be water. 

In today's world, it is no different. The only thing that might be different is the fact that we are relatively running out of clean water sources, thus we need to filter it. And guess what? The ancient Mayas were on the same page with us regarding the water purification systems. 


Researchers from the US have unearthed evidence in the undisturbed sediments of the Corriental reservoir at the Maya city of Tikal, in northern Guatemala. 

It seems that the drinking water in the reservoir had been filtered, as the researchers could tell by coarse and zeolite mixtures -- minerals "with excellent absorptive properties" that can filter harmful microbes and insoluble toxins from water, the study says.

It seemed surprising as most of the ancient civilizations such as the Aztec, Inca, and indigenous cultures relied on spring waters, without a need to filter water. What's more, it has been predicted that the oldest concept of water purification occurred in Europe and southern Asia. 

"The Maya were the only ancient New World civilization that needed water filtration because many of their cities were located on a karst landscape in a tropical and monsoon climate," the study reads.

The area was also susceptible to extreme seasonal changes and droughts along with a large population living there for the long-term. With all these factors, along with the fact that the area was prone to contamination, Mayas need for clean water was vital, . 

There is one thing that might come as a surprise though. The minerals were not native to Tikal, which meant Mayas used to travel to 18.6 miles (30 km) northeast of the city and collect them.

"The archaeological record of Tikal includes the oldest known zeolite water purification system that was developed at a time when cultures elsewhere in the world were experimenting with other water purification methods such as boiling, cloth strainers, porous ceramic vessels, and sand sieves," authors wrote.

The Maya civilization seems to be ahead of their time even almost 2,000 years back then. 

The research has been published in the journal Nature.


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