A new study of the iconic stone masks of the ancient city of Teotihuacan, Mexico, reveals that the masks were made elsewhere and often of differing materials rather than the jadeite archaeologists believed. Over 600 hundred of these famous masks exist in museums throughout the world.
[quote_center]“Almost everything that has been written about the making of the Teotihuacan masks is untrue,” says Jane Walsh, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.[/quote_center]
This study used a special scanning electron microscope called a low-vacuum microscope. Normal scanning electron microscopes require samples to be coated with carbon or gold which is impossible to do with value archaeological artifacts. The low-vacuum microscope surrounds the specimen with water vapor instead. Timothy Rose, a geologist at the Smithsonian, presented the results of microscope studies last week at the annual meeting of the American Vacuum Society, a group of material scientists, in Baltimore.
In the study of 150 of these masks with good provenance from several museums it was found that the masks were made of various softer stones, including serpentinite, limestone and travertine. Also grains of quartz used for polishing were also found on the masks. Such quartz is not found in Teotihuacan but instead is found 150 kilometers south in the state of Pueblo. Other pottery manufacturing centers for Teotihuacan are known in the region so it is hypothesized that a stone mask workshop may be located there as well. The study also found the skeletons of diatoms (algae) common in diatomaceous earth that might have made a good final polish. This soils are not found in Teotihuacan either, but rather around Puebla.
The study also reveals the tools and cutting techniques used in manufacture, making it easy to identify the stone files used by the original creators from rotary cutters used by modern fakers. The researchers were reused to have only found 3 fakes in the group.