Volcanic ash in ancient Maya ceramics of the limestone lowlands: implications for prehistoric volcanic activity in the Guatemala highlands
In the spirit of collaborative research, Glicken and Ford embarked on the problem of identifying the source of volcanic ash used as temper in prehistoric Maya ceramics. Verification of the presence of glass shards and associated volcanic mineralogy in thin sections of Maya ceramics was straightforward and pointed to the Guatemala Highland volcanic chain. Considering seasonal wind rose patterns, target volcanoes include those from the area west of and including Guatemala City. Joint field research conducted in 1983 by Glicken and Ford in the limestone lowlands of Belize and neighboring Guatemala, 300 km north of the volcanic zone and 150 km from the nearest identified ash deposits, was unsuccessful in discovering local volcanic ash deposits. The abundance of the ash in common Maya ceramic vessels coupled with the difficulties of long-distance procurement without draft animals lead Glicken to suggest that ashfall into the lowlands would most parsimoniously explain prehistoric procurement; it literally dropped into their hands. A major archaeological problem with this explanation is that the use of volcanic ash occurring over several centuries of the Late Classic Period (ca. 600–900 AD). To accept the ashfall hypothesis for ancient Maya volcanic ash procurement, one would have to demonstrate a long span of consistent volcanic activity in the Guatemala Highlands for the last half of the first millennium AD. Should this be documented through careful petrographic, microprobe and tephrachronological studies, a number of related archaeological phenomena would be explained. In addition, the proposed model of volcanic activity has implications for understanding volcanism and potential volcanic hazards in Central America over a significantly longer time span than the historic period. These avenues are explored and a call for further collaborative research of this interdisciplinary problem is extended in this paper.
Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Ford, Anabel and Rose, William I., "Volcanic ash in ancient Maya ceramics of the limestone lowlands: implications for prehistoric volcanic activity in the Guatemala highlands" (2000). Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences Publications. 91.