Origins of Maya pottery material remain mysterious

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Analyses give clues to composition of ash, seek to identify its source.

Scientists now have geochemical clues about the composition of volcanic ash used in Maya pottery between the 7th and 10th centuries, although the ash's source is still a mystery. Results of a new study definitively discount one Mexican volcano, long thought to be the likely supplier of the ash.

Researchers have long known that Maya of the Late Classic period, an archaeological interval that stretched approximately from 600 to 900, used a mixture of volcanic ash and clay to make pottery. Microscopic analyses of broken potsherds show that the ash particles are sharp-edged, indicating they were freshly erupted when the pots were made, says Brianne Catlin, a geoarchaeologist now at Hess Corp. in Houston. While at the University of California, Santa Barbara, she and her colleagues analyzed pottery fragments found at El Pilar, a Maya site near the Belize-Guatemala border, in an attempt to find the source of the pottery's ash.

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