Scientists Discover Ancient Mayan Water-Cleaning System

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. filtration / fɪlˈtreɪ ʃən / (n) – the process of removing unwanted materials using a piece of equipment

    The building’s water filtration system broke down, and water from faucets appear dirty.

  2. primitive / ˈprɪm ɪ tɪv / (adj) – of or relating to something that comes from an early time of development in the past

    Tools from the Stone Age are proof of primitive life.

  3. pave / peɪv / (v) – to cover an area with pieces of stone, concrete, or bricks to form a hard, flat surface

    The road was paved with bricks.

  4. microbe / ˈmaɪ kroʊb / (n) – a very small living thing that cannot be seen without a piece of equipment

    The scientist used a microscope to study the microbe.

  5. taint / teɪnt / (v) – to make something unpleasant, dangerous, or dirty

    The water was tainted with toxic chemicals, which made it unsafe to drink.


Read the text below.

A team of researchers uncovered a 2,000-year-old filtration system built by the Maya in the ancient city of Tikal.

The researchers discovered the system during an excavation in northern Guatemala. Called the Corriental reservoir filtration system, the primitive system was one of the most advanced inventions of its time.

The system remained in use until the city was abandoned around 1,000 years ago.

To build the filtration system, the Maya paved the roads in their city so that water could be gathered in the surrounding reservoirs. When water flowed into the Corriental reservoir, it passed through tanks where the water would be filtered through a series of minerals. The researchers found that quartz crystals and zeolite, a compound of silicon and aluminum, were used to filter and remove impurities, microbes, and sediments in the water.

The team discovered that water in other reservoirs in the area was tainted by mercury, which may have come from some paint used by the Maya. However, the filtration system helped clean the water and remove contaminants from it. The scientists concluded that the water in the Corriental reservoir probably had the best quality in terms of taste and drinkability.

Lead author and archaeologist Kenneth Barnett Tankersley noted that the system would still be effective today, even if the filtration system was created a thousand years ago.  The same minerals found in the ancient filtration system are used in modern-day ones.

Another archaeologist commented that the discovery is proof of the Maya’s technological capabilities and their advanced innovations.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• What does it tell you about the Maya, knowing that they were able to invent something that could still be effective up to the present? Explain.
• How do you think the Maya came up with the idea for the filtration system (e.g. by trial and error, by getting inspiration from nature)? Explain.

Discussion B

• Do you think our modern inventions will still be used in a thousand years? Explain.
• What technology from your country do you think shows how advanced our civilization is today? Discuss.