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Maya Blue

March 13, 2008

Scientists use high-tech tools to analyze ancient art.


High-tech science meets ancient art. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Sometimes solving the mysteries of art history takes some pretty sophisticated science. Take the color Maya Blue, for example, the most stable pigment ever invented. But scientists puzzled for decades over what makes it so durable. Giacomo Chiari is the lead scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute. He says researchers bombarded the pigment with x-rays to determine its composition. Turns out, it’s a mixture of a clay called palygorskite and indigo dye from the leaves of a Mexican plant called añil. The dye adheres to channels in the clay’s crystalline structure with strong hydrogen bonds, making it extraordinarily stable.

GIACOMO CHIARI (Getty Conservation Institute):
All the most sophisticated tools of crystallography and science were applied to clarify how the Maya made that particular thing.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.