Paper No. 224-9
Presentation Time: 4:15 PM
MERCURY AND THE ANCIENT MAYA OF LOWLAND CENTRAL AMERICA
Geochemical studies across the Maya lowlands of Central America have detected elevated mercury (Hg) concentrations in soils and sediments that date from the first millennium of the Common Era. Mercury pollution has now been measured across multiple Maya archaeological sites, a finding that requires further research attention given the absence of any archaeological evidence for a Maya industry of mercury mining or extraction. This paper discusses the chronology and magnitude of anthropogenic mercury in the landscapes of the ancient Maya, in the context of our current understanding of the geological origins, pathways and environmental impacts of ancient Maya mercury use. We propose that mercury is a robust stratigraphic marker of human environmental impact near ancient Maya sites, due to its singular anthropogenic signal and persistence in soils and sediments over long timespans. Finally, this paper considers mercury as a natural resource of the ancient Maya (alongside other geological resources, such as jadeite and obsidian), and the implications of this for our understanding of Maya long-distance trade networks and industry.