Maya Blue

Maya Blue
A warrior with Azul Maya on the background

Maya Blue (Spanish: Azul Maya) is a unique bright azure blue pigment manufactured by cultures of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, such as the Maya and Aztec.



The Maya blue pigment is a composite of organic and inorganic constituents, primarily indigo dyes derived from the leaves of añil (Indigofera suffruticosa) plants combined with palygorskite, a natural clay.[1] Smaller trace amounts of other mineral additives have also been identified.[2]

Historical use

"Maya blue" first appeared around 800 and it was still used in the 16th century in several Convents of Colonial Mexico, notably in the paintings of the Indian Juan Gerson in Tecamachalco. These paintings are a clear example of the combination of Indian and European techniques sometimes known as Arte Indocristiano. After that, the techniques for its production were lost in Mexico but in Cuba there are examples from 1830.[3]

Resistance to weathering

Despite time and the harsh weathering conditions, paintings colored by Maya Blue have not faded over time. What is even more remarkable is that the color has resisted chemical solvents and acids such as nitric acid. Recently, its resistance against chemical aggression (acids, alkalis, solvents, etc.) and biodegradation was tested, and it was shown that Maya blue is an extremely resistant pigment, but it can be destroyed using very intense acid treatment under reflux.[4]

Research on chemical composition

Microscopic image of a mural at Bonampak
Microscopic image of a mural at Teotihuacan
Mexican Colonial Painting by Juan Gerson where Maya Blue was used. The technique disappeared in the early colonial period.

The chemical composition of the compound was determined by powder diffraction in the 1950s[5] and was found to be a composite of palygorskite and indigo, most likely derived from the use of the leaves of the añil. The actual recipe to reproduce Maya Blue pigment was published in 1993 by a Mexican historian and chemist, Constantino Reyes-Valerio. The combination of different of clays: palygorskite, montmorillonite, together with the use of the leaves of the añil and the actual process is described in Reyes-Valerio (1993).[6] Reyes-Valerio's contributions were possible due to his combined background of history and chemistry, through a thorough revision of primary texts (Sahagun, Hernandez. Jimenez and others), microscopic analysis of the mural paintings and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy.

After the formula for the production was published in the book "De Bonampak al Templo Mayor: Historia del Azul Maya en Mesoamerica" there were many developments in the chemical analysis of the pigment in collaborations between Reyes-Valerio with European Scientists.[7].

A comprehensive study on the pigment which describes history, the experimental study techniques (Diffraction Studies, Infrared Spectroscopies, Raman, Optical Spectroscopies, Voltammetry, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Computer Modelling), the syntheses, properties and nature of maya blue and the research in relation with the Archaeological and Historical Contexts has been published in "Developments in Clay Science" [8]

Uses in cultural contexts

Pre-Columbian American Culture

See also


  1. ^ Arnold (2005); Haude (1997).
  2. ^ Haude (1997); Reyes-Valerio (1993).
  3. ^ Chiari(2000)
  4. ^ Sanchez del Rio(2006)
  5. ^ Gettens, R. J. Am. Antiq. 1962, 27, 557-564
  6. ^ Reyes-Valerio, De Bonampak al Templo Mayor, La historia del Azul Maya en Mesoamerica, Siglo XXI Editores, 1993.
  7. ^ notably, Giaccomo Chiari [1] from the University of Torino, David Ajò from C.N.R. of Padua and Manuel Sanchez del Rio [2] from ESRF [3] in France
  8. ^ Sanchez del Rio, et. al. The Maya Blue Pigment, Developments in Clay Science, Vol. 3., Pages 453-481, DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53607-5.00018-9
  9. ^ Greg Borzo's press release, 26-Feb-2008 [4] (update when the actual study comes out)


Arnold, Dean E. (2005). "Maya Blue and Palygorskite:A second possible pre-Columbian source". Ancient Mesoamerica 16: pp.51–62. doi:10.1017/S0956536105050078. 
Arnold, Dean E.; and Bruce F. Bohor (1975). "Attapulgite and Maya Blue: an Ancient Mine Comes to Light". Archaeology 28 (1): pp.23–29. 
Chiari, Giaccomo; and R. Giustetto, C. Reyes-Valerio, G. Richiardi (2000). "Maya Blue Pigment: A Palygorskite-Indigo complex". XXX Congresso Associazione Italiana di Cristallografia 48 (1): pp.115. 
M. SÁNCHEZ DEL RÍO, P. MARTINETTO, C. REYES-VALERIO, E. DOORYHÉE, M. SUÁREZ (2006). "Synthesis and Acid Resistance of Maya Blue Pigment". Archeometry 48 (1): p.115. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4754.2006.00246.x. 
Chiari, Giaccomo; and R. Giustetto, J. Druzik, E. Doehne, G. Richiardi (2008). %7C "Pre-columbian nanotechnology: reconciling the mysteries of the maya blue pigment". Applied Physics A: Materials Science & Processing 90 (1): pp.3–7. %7C. 
M. SÁNCHEZ DEL RÍO, P. MARTINETTO, C. REYES-VALERIO, E. DOORYHÉE, M. SUÁREZ (2006). "Synthesis and Acid Resistance of Maya Blue Pigment". Archeometry 48 (1): p.115. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4754.2006.00246.x. 
M. Sánchez del Río, P. Martinetto, C. Solís, and C. Reyes-Valerio (2006). "PIXE analysis on Maya blue in Prehispanic and colonial mural paintings". Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B 249 (1–2): p.628–632. doi:10.1016/j.nimb.2006.03.069. 
M. Sanchez del Rio, A. Sodo, S. G. Eeckhout, T. Neisius, P. Martinetto, E. Dooryhée and C. Reyes-Valerio (2005). "Fe K-edge XANES of Maya blue pigment". Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B 238 (1–4): p.50–54. doi:10.1016/j.nimb.2005.06.017. 
M. Sanchez del Rio, P. Martinetto, A. Somogyi, C. Reyes-Valerio, E. Dooryhée, N. Peltier, L. Alianelli, B. Moignard, L. Pichon, T. Calligaro, J.-C. Dran (2004). "Microanalysis study of archaeological mural samples containing Maya blue pigment". Spectrochimica Acta Part B: Atomic Spectroscopy 59 (10–11): p.1619–1625. doi:10.1016/j.sab.2004.07.027. 
Haude, Mary Elizabeth (1997). "Identification and Classification of Colorants Used During Mexico's Early Colonial Period". The Book and Paper Group Annual 16. ISSN 0887-8978. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
Reyes-Valerio, Constantino (1993). De Bonampak al Templo Mayor: El azul maya en Mesoamérica. Mexico D.F.: Siglo XXI editores. ISBN 968-23-1893-9. Retrieved 2007-03-16.  (Spanish)

External links

  • Azul Maya, descriptive site by Reyes-Valerio (Spanish) (English)

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