13 May 2015

Liquid mercury under a Mexican pyramid

As reported in The Guardian:
An archaeologist has discovered liquid mercury at the end of a tunnel beneath a Mexican pyramid, a finding that could suggest the existence of a king’s tomb or a ritual chamber far below one of the most ancient cities of the Americas...

Rosemary Joyce, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, said that archaeologists have found mercury at three other sites around Central America... Joyce said the ancient Mesoamericans could produce liquid mercury by heating mercury ore, known as cinnabar, which they also used for its blood-red pigment. The Maya used cinnabar to decorate jade objects.
I was fascinated by this report because it reminded me of the reports that the first Chinese emporer's tomb contains lakes and rivers of liquid mercury.    There is an extended discussion of this at ChemistryWorld.
Most enticing of all is a detail relayed by Qian: ‘Mercury was used to fashion the hundred rivers, the Yellow river and the Yangtze river, and the seas in such a way that they flowed’. This idea that the main chamber contains a kind of microcosm of all of China (as it was then recognised) with rivers, lakes and seas of shimmering mercury had long seemed too fantastic for modern historians to grant it credence...

In the 1980s Chinese researchers found that the soil in the burial mound above the tomb contains mercury concentrations way above those elsewhere in the vicinity. Now some archaeologists working on the site believe that the body of the First Emperor may indeed lie amidst vast puddles of the liquid metal.


  1. Fascinating! Thank you. You always find the most interesting things.

  2. Fascinating. Also, important safety tip: Don't heat cinnabar to extract mercury unless you are absolutely sure you know what you are doing and have appropriate safety equipment in place. Liquid mercury is relatively safe since it does not absorb into the human body readily. Gaseous mercury and/or mercury compounds interacting with your lungs causes much more rapid absorption and it widely acknowledged as bad news.


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