Synchrotron powder diffraction on Aztec blue pigments
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Some samples of raw blue pigments coming from an archaeological rescue mission in downtown Mexico City have been characterized using different techniques. The samples, some recovered as a part of a ritual offering, could be assigned to the late Aztec period (XVth century). The striking characteristic of these samples is that they seem to be raw pigments prior to any use in artworks, and it was possible to collect a few μg of pigment after manual grain selection under a microscopy monitoring. All pigments are made of indigo, an organic colorant locally known as añil or xiuhquilitl. The colorant is always found in combination with an inorganic matrix, studied by powder diffraction. In one case the mineral base is palygorskite, a rare clay mineral featuring micro-channels in its structure, well known as the main ingredient of the Maya blue pigment. However, other samples present the minerals sepiolite (a clay mineral of the palygorskite family) and calcite. Another sample contains barite, a mineral never reported in prehispanic paints. We present the results of characterization using high resolution powder diffraction recorded at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (BM25A, SpLine beamline) complemented with other techniques. All of them gave consistent results on the composition. A chemical test on resistance to acids was done, showing a high resistance for the palygorskite and eventually sepiolite compounds, in good agreement with the excellent resistance of the Maya blue.
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