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Did the Mayans Invent Plumbing Before Europeans Arrived in The New World?

It was long believed that the Spanish brought plumbing techniques to the Americas, then called The New World, but recent explorations have discovered the remains of plumbing fixtures in the Ancient Mayans civilization. Apparently they did more than simply predict the end of the world.

I have previously written about the ancient Romans contributions to plumbing with public outhouses and the aqueducts, which you can read in our history of plumbing blog. Let’s take time to look over the ancient Mayans contributions to plumbing technology.

Where was this ancient plumbing located?

Located in the city of Palenque, current-day Chiapas in Mexico, evidence of pressurized water systems suggest that the Mayans may have had plumbing dating as far back as 250 A.D. Palenque was settled in 100 A.D. and reached prominence from 250-600. It was later abandoned around 800 A.D., but not before leaving behind a complex plumbing system, although not nearly on the scope of the Romans’ aqueducts.

What were its main features?

The landscape at Palenque made it very difficult to expand, forcing a tight-knit society. In order to support a big population, adjustments had to be made. One such advancement was redirecting streams through underground passages to city locations. The aqueducts also prevented flooding from nearly 10-feet of rainfall during the stormy season.

The Piedras Bolas Aqueduct is located on a steep hill, where it collects up to 18,000 gallons of water at the top and lets it out at the bottom. The 20 foot decrease in elevation causes it to gain substantial pressure, allowing it to forcibly shoot out at the end.

What was this water pressure for?

Researchers are not certain about why they would need water pressure systems, but a few theories do exist. For one, it may have been used as wastewater removal to spray away waste. It could also have been inconsequential, and merely a side feature of the design.

But one particular hypothesis is currently popular, that the water was used in a fountain. This would look attractive and allow anyone to access the water for personal use. There is evidence of a similar structure in the Palenque palace, further leading archaeologists to this conclusion