Zeolites in water treatment traced back to Ancient Maya

Until recently, the use of zeolites in water treatment has been considered a 20th century discovery; however new research suggests the ancient Maya were actually using this technology thousands of years ago.

Crystalised zeolite forms naturally and has useful properties for water treatment. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Zeolites are naturally occurring minerals with excellent adsorption properties, allowing the removal of harmful microbes, metals, nitrogen compounds and other toxins from water.


Since their discovery in the early 1900’s, zeolites have been used extensively for water treatment around the world – and the technology is still being developed, with over two thousand new zeolite-related patents registered over the past decade.


However, a recent anthropological study published in the Nature Research journal reveals that zeolites were already being used, two thousand years ago, at a water reservoir in the ancient Maya city of Tikal in Guatemala.


The ancient Maya civilisation occupied regions in south-east Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and western Honduras from 2,000 B.C. all the way through to the Spanish Inquisition in the 17th century. The Maya particularly flourished between 200 and 850 A.D. – developing major cities (such as Tikal) amid harsh tropical rainforests, and erecting large monuments that are still standing today.

Maya temple located in the ancient city of Tikal in the Guatemalan rainforest. Source: Wikimedia Commons