On July 9th I attended an exhibit entitled “Revealing Creation: The Science and Art of Ancient Maya Ceramic.” In the exhibit I was lucky to meet a docent who enlightened me on the interesting discoveries scientists were able to make about Mayan ceramics because of new technologies.
The docent and I standing in front of the exhibit description
Researchers used rollout scanning to take a continuous photo of the ceramic’s surface, which allowed them to view the paintings on a flat plane. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) Spectroscopy was also used, which allowed scientists to gather information about the elemental compositions of the pots. Vases that were thought to be made by gluing slabs of clay together were discovered to have been made by stacking coils of clay upon one another and smoothing out the sides to create a complete piece. Some rattles were also found in the bases of the pots which was something researchers would have never known if they hadn’t used XRF.
A Mayan vessel and the X-ray image that revealed the composition of the money head
Through this technique they were able to determine the pigments they used, such as Maya blue. Maya blue, a pigment found on many of the Mayans artifacts, turns pink under the infrared light of the XRF. Although researchers are able to identify the pigment, they have not discovered the exact composition of the paint. This pigment hasn’t faded on some artifacts that date back to 900 AD. It was used to represent high status and exclusivity and was often given as a gift or offering to foreigners to make alliances.
The ability to use scientific techniques to further our understanding of art is relevant not only in Mayan cultures but also in the discussion of two cultures and math and art. Science has allowed Maya art to be analyzed and understood using the techniques of Rollout and Infrared Photography, as well as X-ray fluorescence Spectroscopy. The precision of proportions in their art implies that they had a firm grasp on mathematics in order to make accurate renderings in their paintings. Therefore, the separation between mathematics and art is not a clearly defined, but rather intertwined. Through the use of scientific technologies, we are now able to further understand how ancient people were able to achieve their great feats in art.
"Revealing Creation: The Science and Art of Ancient Maya Ceramics." Los Angeles County Museum of Art. N.p., 21 May 2016. Web. 17 July 2016.
Chang, Kenneth. "The Grim Story of Maya Blue." The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 Feb. 2008. Web. 17 July 2016.
"Maya Art." Maya Art. N.p., 5 Feb. 2007. Web. 17 July 2016.
"XRF Technology." Thermo Fisher Scientific. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.
"Rollout Photography." Rollout Photography. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.