El-Zotz Project

PAPER TITLE: “Analysis of samples excavated from a royal tomb in El Zotz: Application of materials science characterization techniques in archaeology” 
Kristina A. Cheung, Nuoya Xie, Zhaoying Yao, Stephen Houston, Sarah Newman, Edwin René Román-Ramírez, Thomas Garrison, Christian Fischer, Vanessa Muros, Sergey Prikhodko, Ioanna Kakoulli. Archaeological Chemistry VIII, (2013)397-418.

245th ACS National Meeting and Exposition April 7-11, 2013
DIVISION: HIST: Division of the History of Chemistry
SESSION: 12th Archaeological Chemistry Symposium

Abstract: This project focuses on the characterization of materials from burial offerings and painted decoration in a royal Maya tomb at El Zotz, Guatemala and their association to mortuary rituals. Archaeological findings included vessels, jade masks, organic materials (wood, cord, and textiles), specular hematite cubes, shells with powdered cinnabar, green (malachite) painted stucco assumed to have decorated the wooden bier where the king was resting, and cashes of lip-to-lip orange bowls containing human phalanges. In this paper we describe preliminary findings from non-invasive and non-destructive analysis techniques including XRF, VPSEM-EDS, XRD, and Raman spectroscopy, emphasizing the potential of these combined technologies in the identification of organic and inorganic markers to infer burial customs. The nature and location of the findings, the evidence of pigment coloration on the bones employing hematite and cinnabar, and the indication of exposure of the bones to high temperatures suggest highly complex mortuary practices of Maya elite.