Applied Physics A

, Volume 90, Issue 1, pp 3–7

Pre-columbian nanotechnology: reconciling the mysteries of the maya blue pigment


    • Getty Conservation Institute
  • R. Giustetto
    • Università di Torino
  • J. Druzik
    • Getty Conservation Institute
  • E. Doehne
    • Getty Conservation Institute
  • G. Ricchiardi
    • Università di Torino

DOI: 10.1007/s00339-007-4287-z

Cite this article as:
Chiari, G., Giustetto, R., Druzik, J. et al. Appl. Phys. A (2008) 90: 3. doi:10.1007/s00339-007-4287-z


The ancient Maya combined skills in organic chemistry and mineralogy to create an important technology – the first permanent organic pigment. The unique color and stability of Maya Blue can be explained by a new model where indigo dye fills the grooves present at the surface of palygorskite clay, forming a hydrogen bonded organic/inorganic complex. Existing theory assumes the dye is dispersed inside the channels of an opaque mineral. Based on data from thermal analysis, synchrotron and neutron diffraction, ESEM and chemical modelling calculations, our new concept of Maya Blue structure resolves this contradiction and suggests some novel possibilities for more durable, environmentally benign pigments.

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© J. Paul Getty Trust 2007