“This pigment has been stable for centuries in the hostile conditions of the jungle,” said Eric Dooryhee at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. “We’re trying to mimic it to make new materials.”
Dooryhee and team of French physicists have spent years studying historical objects using X-rays. They shoot finely-tuned beams of X-rays from a synchrotron machine — much stronger than a dental X-ray — at these materials and look at the pattern of scattered X-rays coming out in order to determine the structure of the atoms inside.
The scientists have used this technology to examine Egyptian cosmetics, Roman pottery, and Renaissance paintings. They have recreated some of these ancient materials and are just beginning to learn how to borrow their strengths to make new modern “archeomimetic” materials that can stand the test of time.
Unlike most organic pigments, which tend to break down over time, the pigment Maya Blue is remarkably resistant — not only to natural weathering, heat, and light, but also to strong acids and solvents in the laboratory.