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Maya, Olmec and Aztec mingled juices of plants to get a harder substance or elastic, probably used for the legendary Mesoamerican football tournaments.
New research reveals that the ancient civilizations of much of Mexico and Central America were able to produce different types of well 3000 years before Charles Goodyear Rubber could stabilize in the mid-nineteenth century. The Aztecs, the Olmecs and the Maya of Mesoamerica were using the natural rubber latex, a milky fluid that is found in some plants.
Mesoamerica extends from central Mexico to Honduras and Nicaragua. The ancient rubber manufacturers extracted the latex from rubber trees and mixed it with the Ipomea purpurea juice which contains a chemical substance capable of making less brittle the solidified latex. Scholars of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that using different doses of the two ingredients for the preparation of rubber and changing the package, you can get different types of rubber with distinct characteristics.
Some types of rubber were more elastic, and were probably used to create the balloons of the legendary Mesoamerican football tournaments. How to describe the ancient Maya texts, these tournaments often had a religious significance – the juxtaposition of good against evil – and it is believed that at times ended with human sacrifices, especially with ritual beheadings.
With a different dosage and Ipomoea purpurea latex it was obtained more durable rubber, the kind that was probably used to create the rubber sandals Aztecs, described by Spanish conquistadors but never found by archaeologists. Mixing the two ingredients in equal parts is obtained instead the more elastic rubber absolute, while with 75% of latex, and 25% of Ipomea that created the most resistant of all rubber. Study co-author Michael Tarkanian, a researcher at the Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Etnology MIT he says that the initial discovery of the possibility of making the rubber latex and Ipomoea purpurea was not an extraordinary event. Ipomea grows next to gum trees and the two plants were considered sacred by many Mesoamerican peoples. Ipomea was also used in religious ceremonies for its hallucinogenic properties.
To play the creation of rubber with the highest accuracy, Tarkanian and colleague Dorothy Hosler have collected the latex from rubber trees and juice from plants of the Ipomoea in Mexico. The first problem was to transport the ingredients in the laboratory. Latex is not encoded by the US Customs: There are no specific documents and then to allow for their importation into the USA. “A big problem when you have to cross the border into plastic bottles containing this strange liquid,” said Tarkanian. But once back in the US, researchers have had to deal with the second problem: the latex had to be heated. “The formula worked at room temperature in Mexico, but not in the MIT laboratories with the air conditioning,” explains Tarkanian. When the mixture was too cold, the molecules do not aggregating. Today most of the rubber is treated with a process called vulcanization, which cooks the liquid latex with sulfur to increase strength and elasticity. According to Tarkanian, it is not surprising that ancient civilizations such as the Aztecs would create Rubber advanced versions.
Although they are often defined primitive and violent, the Aztecs were brought to scientific research, as evidenced by their metallurgical experiments, the scholar argues. “With their scientific and mechanical knowledge would naturally tried different combinations of substances to make the gum,” says Tarkanian.
After mixing the ingredients, she adds the researcher, were needed ten minutes to be formed because the rubber and another five because solidify. The workers involved had only minutes to shape the final product. Tarkanian and Hosler have created in the laboratory of rubber sheets, and once they even managed to give shape to some balloons. “At the end of the semester, we made a game of ball like the ancient and the losing team was beheaded,” jokes Tarkanian.