Applied Physics A

, Volume 90, Issue 1, pp 3-7

First online:

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

  • G. ChiariAffiliated withGetty Conservation Institute Email author 
  • , R. GiustettoAffiliated withUniversità di Torino
  • , J. DruzikAffiliated withGetty Conservation Institute
  • , E. DoehneAffiliated withGetty Conservation Institute
  • , G. RicchiardiAffiliated withUniversità di Torino

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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.