2000 Year Old Water Purification System

Perhaps no one noticed before, because Western technology had to catch up for the rest of us to comprehend what we were seeing. A study made last year by researchers from the University of Cincinnati demonstrated the science behind one Native technology. In present day Guatemala, at the city of Tikal over 2000 years ago people used a water filtration system that rivals current methods and uses similar materials; quartz and zeolite. Water management was important at Tikal because it was one of the largest Maya cities, around 60,000–90,000 people. Water was scarce during dry seasons of the year and irrigation brought it to the city in several reservoirs. The layers of sediment in the Corriental Reservoir that contains zeolite and quartz has noticeably cleaner water than those that do not. The filters using these elements would have been replaced regularly.

Tikal location in Guatemala Image: David Chantladze

The first deduction of an archeologist might be that the zeolite was a naturally occurring element, the purified water happened by chance. Although, in this case the nearest deposits of the unique mineral are nineteen miles away. Zeolite has only become common in water purification in the last 100 years, because it removes heavy metals and harmful microbes.

The lead author on the paper is Dr. Kenneth Barnett Tankersley, an enrolled member of the Piqua Shawnee Tribe of Alabama. He is an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati in the departments of anthropology and geology. In November 2020, he and his associates published new research which shows evidence of this water filtration system at the Corriental Reservoir. The interdisciplinary team of included scientists with backgrounds in soil science, geology, biology, and anthropology. Dr. Tankersley believes that was key to this discovery. because a team member knew a lot about zeolite and the deposit 19 miles away. Dr. Tankersley’s life’s work is focused on bringing to light the accomplishments of Native Americans, in this case the purest water in the Western Hemisphere 2000 years ago. That’s purer than that of the Romans, the Greeks, or any other western civilization!

Seems that what we don’t know about previous civilizations is more than what we do know. Good to have a few mysteries left. What do you think? Let us know in the comments. ¡Olé! –Rebecca

Thanks to my friend Carolyn for bringing this science news to my attention. ¡Muchas gracias!

Tikal Temple I Photo: Rebecca Cuningham
Rebecca Cuningham

24 thoughts on “2000 Year Old Water Purification System

    1. Thanks for your comments, Rosaliene. I think quite a few, because of the hubris of Europeans thinking they could not learn anything from other Peoples. I especially mourn the lost library of the Aztecs/Mixteca that was burned.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I had no idea that Tikal had a water filtration system! I thought it was solely for prayer/other religious practices…sounds like the Mayans were way ahead of their time, and I learned something new today. Thanks for sharing this, Rebecca!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, for your comments Rebecca. It was a religious center and a city. I had no idea how large a city until I researched for this post. Yes, they were very advanced, even had the concept of zero. Makes me curious what else they invented that we have yet to discover!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Another great history lesson. As a kid and even as an adult, I had no concept of how ancient people survived long enough to give us life. Those folks were a lot smarter about many things we don’t realize yet. They had to be some pretty ingenious people to survive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Larry. Yes, I agree that not much time is spent learning or uncovering the details of life millennia ago, especially those of Native Peoples. I hope that as archeology develops, using interdisciplinary teams of scientists, more great discoveries will be made.


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