Jan 31, 2017

Mysterious Blue, Clay Figurines, Nanotechnology

Stay away from negative people,
they have a problem for everything.

Unknown

Ball player, Jaina Island, Campeche, MX, 600-900 CE
 INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia)
Jaina Clay Figurines:

Jaina Island (Originally Hanal = House on the Water) lies off the coast of Yucatán, just a bit north of where we are in Campeche.  Two decaying pyramids grace that area but they are not the main reason archaeologists visit it.  This area is no longer open to the general public but the famous figurines found there can be seen in museums around the world. They are generally regarded as the finest figurine art produced throughout the ancient Americas.
Latin American Studies Organization, Aerial view of Jaina Island
The entire island was chiefly a necropolis, where for centuries the Maya elite were buried, usually with a jade bead in their mouth.  The bodies were accompanied by a variety of grave goods such as utensils, ceremonial objects, weavers’ bone picks, vases, stone tools, glassware, slate-ware, hand woven mats, and above all clay statuettes.  There are an estimated 20,000 graves on Jaina but only a thousand or so have been explored.  The Mayas believed burial spaces should be facing the setting sun, hence choosing that specific island on the west side of the Yucatán.

Seated bearded man, 600-900 CE, Jaina
Due to the sheer number of figurines found here, they have become known as "Jaina-style figurines" whether they were found on Jaina Island or elsewhere. In fact, these figurines are far more numerous at inland Maya sites.  Although the exact date of their creation is unknown, the statuettes seem to have been produced between 600 and 1,000 CE.
Jaina woman figurine
Boston Fine Arts Museum.  Notice the Maya blue
Astonishing creativity and beauty can be found in the small figurines clasped in the hands of the dead. They depicted the people with such accuracy, it seems as if they have escaped death.  These tiny clay figurines, less than a foot tall, capture intimate glimpses of mostly upper class Mayan life and styles, many of them still displaying traces of the vivid colors with which they were painted. Some are hollow with clay pellets that rattle; some have holes and serve as whistles or ocarinas, others have movable limbs and may have been puppets. Surprisingly, none have been ‘ritually killed’ by breaking or piercing as was usual with ritual offerings.


Male figurine with spiral, 600-800 CE
Relationship to wind, movement of the elements
Bodies are often stylized but the faces are modeled in loving details. Costumes and jewelry are elaborate and show the same minutia. The figurines represented daily life of artists, mathematicians, scribes, warriors, weavers, astronomers, musicians, princes, ball players, priestesses, dancers, actors, orators, nobility, and the sick, blind or old.  Many of them had a ‘certain’ look.  Their ideal beauty was modeled on the corn god with elongated heads and long flowing hair.  The typical physical characteristics of the Mayas were well represented throughout:  short stature, mutilation, ornamentation of the teeth, aquiline noses, and intentionally crossed eyes.  Remember that hunchbacks and dwarfs were trusted advisers in the Mayan world.  By the account of one of the first persons to categorize these statuettes about 300 types were found.

Priestly Figurine, 700-800 CE, Oaxaca
Seemingly holding ceremonial urn.
Headdress has elements that links him to the moon. 
Sleepy eyes correspond to a condition proper to
ritual intoxication of shamanic nature,
 in which he becomes interlocutor between gods and men.
Research by Franciscan Friar Diego de Landa state that producing these small masterpieces seemed to have been an act of penance.  Artists were isolated and required to fast, exercise strict continence and undergo rigorous religious rituals until the job was done otherwise the work was considered unclean and of evil omen. 
Zapotec Warrior 700-800 CE, Oaxaca 
With shield in hand, of noble origin by the jewelry worn.
Estimates show that millions were made but much looting makes it difficult to know for certain.  Molds were used in some instances.  Those which are handmade are almost all unique, and were predominantly made earlier, mold reproductions came later.

Female figurine, 700-800 CE, Oaxaca of Zapotec nobility,
 necklace and ear-flares of precious mineral as well as elaborate headdress
Jaina figurine 600-800 CE. 
Formidable details in expression and clothing. 
Deformations were also prized then.
Rower (or paddler) Jaguar God


Today researchers think the figurines were made as offerings for the debts for which the people died, and to be companions to the dead on their trip to the beyond.

Much of this information by Román Piña Chán

Maya blue retains its vibrant color for centuries. 
Jaina figurine head from 600-900 CE - Field Museum
Maya Blue:

Maya blue is a remarkably stable pigment resistant to fading, age, heat, weather, fluctuations in pH, and solvents.  The vibrant blueish to green color can be seen on pottery, murals and other artifacts such as sculptures and figurines produced by the Maya people of centuries ago.  This unusually durable pigment remains vibrant today long after other colors have faded away.
It was also the color of Chaak, the Maya rain deity, and of human sacrifice. When the skies looked too much like Maya blue — dry and rainless — the Maya sometimes selected an unfortunate victim to be painted this color and sacrificed to Chaak in hopes that the rains would follow. An account by a 16th-century Spanish Franciscan friar described rituals where victims were stripped, painted and thrown onto a stone altar where their hearts, still beating, were cut out.  Blue was a significant color.  It was very, very important for the priests and rituals.
The composition of Maya blue, first used around 300 CE remained a mystery for a long time.  Eventually chemists deciphered its components: the natural dye indigo and a clay mineral of fibrous nature known as palygorskite (called ‘white earth’ by the Mayas), which can be melded together by heat to produce the pigment.
What remains unknown was where and when the Maya made Maya blue. Was there a paint factory churning it out by the gallon? Or was it a secret recipe held tightly by the priests? Was it made at the mines where the palygorskite was dug out, or was the palygorskite transported to the cities?
A possible answer comes from a bowl that has been sitting in the Field Museum in Chicago for decades.  The bowl had been dredged up, among other artifacts and 127 skeletons, by an explorer named Edward Thompson early in the 20th century from a natural well at Chichén Itzá, a major Maya city near the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. Thompson shipped the artifacts to Harvard’s Peabody Museum, which later gave some of them to the Field Museum.  Thompson also described a 14-foot-layer (4.2 meters) of blue sediment at the bottom of the well, called the Sacred Cenote. (A cenote is a sinkhole that fills up with groundwater.)
That three-legged bowl, dating from about 1,400, contained a chunk of incense. Within the incense were bits of white and blue. Molecular-scale images taken showed these to be palygorskite and indigo.  A second pigment dehydro-indigo, which must have formed through oxidation of the indigo when it underwent exposure to the heat that is required to prepare Maya blue, was also found. 
Indigo is blue and dehydro-indigo is yellow, therefore the presence of both pigments in variable proportions would justify the variations in tones.  It is possible that the Maya knew how to obtain the desired hue by varying the preparation temperature, for example heating the mixture for more or less time or adding more or less wood to the fire.
A Maya king, seated and wearing an elaborate head dress of blue feathers,
adorns the north wall of the ruined house discovered at the Maya site of Xultún.
An attendant, at right, leans out from behind the king’s headdress.
The painting by artist Heather Hurst recreates the design and colors
of the original Maya Artwork at the site.  Copyright National Geographic Society
Researchers concluded, Maya blue was made as part of the ritual, the ingredients heated by the burning of incense. The pigment was then applied to pots and sacrifices before being thrown into the well.  Because the paint did not have time to set, the researchers surmise that the paint that washed off tinted the sediment layer.
The large quantity of Maya blue found indicates that it clearly played a much larger role than most scholars had appreciated until now, but human sacrifice was not always part of the ritual. Although Thompson found 127 skeletons, the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá was used as a ritual site for centuries. More often, pottery painted blue was thrown in, not people.
Maya blue has been called ‘one of the great technological and artistic achievements of Mesoamerica’.  It was discovered in 1923, identified in 1931, and yet it took an additional 77 years (2008) to figure out how it was made.  Impressive compound being the first known paint to use nanoparticle (contained in the nanoclay it was mixed with) mechanism! 
Not all answers are there yet, and may never be, for the Jaina figurines and the Maya blue. 
So much yet to discover…
Much of this information by Kenneth Ghang

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