Event: Pizza Talk: "The Manufacture and Use of Metallurgical Ceramics at Mayapan, Yucatan, Mexico"

Date & Time

February 7, 2018 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

Contact Information

Matthew Swanson


Fowler A222

Event Type

Pizza Talk

Event Details

Speaker: Dr. Jennifer Meanwell, Lecturer, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, MIT

Copper and copper alloy artifacts were valued commodities at the Postclassic period (AD 1150-1500) Maya capital of Mayapán, and are found as a variety of luxury items, most commonly small ornamental bells. Due to the lack of ore deposits near Mayapán, metal must have been imported from elsewhere in Mesoamerica, entering as a raw material for shaping into desired objects or as already finished goods. As at other Maya sites, the assemblage of metal objects at Mayapán favors common commodities such as bells, tweezers, rings, and miniature axes, but the high frequency of casting errors and the unusual preference for miniaturized bells suggest local production of desired objects using re-cast metals. The past two decades of excavation at the site has unearthed a small but growing assemblage of ceramic fragments that seem to have served as remelting crucibles and as metallurgical molds for casting.

Our ongoing analysis of an exported sample of metallurgical ceramics investigates the raw materials used in manufacture, the modes of production, and the parameters of their use. We investigate the metallurgical ceramics using a variety of analytical tools, specifically ceramic petrography, electron microscopy, and chemical analyses, to demonstrate that these ceramics were used in metallurgical activities and to gain insight into their production and functionality. These highly specialized ceramic materials seem to have been produced using specific raw materials and pastes required by the intense heat and reducing atmosphere required of metallurgical production. This investigation provides insight into the localized pyrotechnical solutions developed by Mayapán’s metallurgical specialists to meet the demands of high-temperature crafting activity.