Maya fountain unearthed by archaeologists

Posted 2:52 AM by crkota in Labels: , , ,
Add plumbing to the mysterious arts of the ancient Maya, investigators report. In a Journal of Archaeological Science study, anthropologist Kirk French and civil engineer Christopher Duffy of Penn State report on a conduit designed to deliver pressurized water to Palenque, an urban center in southern Mexico, more than 1,400 years ago.

"The ancient Maya are renowned as great builders, but are rarely regarded as great engineers. Their constructions, though often big and impressive, are generally considered unsophisticated," say the study authors. However, they add, "(m)any Maya centers exhibit sophisticated facilities that captured, routed, stored, or otherwise manipulated water for various purposes."

Palenque, founded around 100 A.D., grew to some 1,500 temples, homes and palaces by 800 A.D., under a series of powerful rulers. "With 56 springs, nine perennial waterways, aqueducts, pleasure pools, dams, and bridges – the city truly lived up to its ancient name, Lakamha' or "Big Water"," says the study.

Excavations reveal the 217-foot-long, spring-fed "Piedras Bolas" aqueduct underneath Palenque was designed to narrow at its end, producing a high-pressure fountain. It's the first example of deliberately-engineered hydraulic pressure in the New World, prior to the arrival of the conquistadors in the 1,500's. Now eroded, the conduit dates from 250 A.D. to 600 A.D.

"Palenque is unique in that it is a major center where the Maya built water systems to drain water away from the site," says archaeologist Lisa Lucero of the University of Illinois, by email. Most Maya centers stored water in reservoirs for the winter dry season. "Palenque, thus, is a unique site; we would not expect to find such water systems elsewhere. That said, there is lots of lit on the different kinds of water systems. For example, all centers with large plazas have drainage systems to keep the plazas dry during rain. "

The conduit lay underneath several households and could have stored water during the dry season, suggest the study authors. Another possibility, the conduit's flow may have, "created the pressure necessary for an aesthetically pleasing fountain, and perhaps served as an aid in the filling of water jars."

Archaeologists may have missed such technology elsewhere, concludes the study, not giving the ancients enough credit. " It is likely that there are other examples of Precolumbian water pressure throughout the Americas that have been misidentified or unassigned. The most promising candidate being the segmented ceramic tubing found at several sites throughout central Mexico," they suggest.

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