General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 4 Jun 2020/9 Wind
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Salt production in the Yucatan artist’s impression

Aztec advances (11): distillation

This is the eleventh in a series of entries based on information in the Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World by Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield (Facts on File, 2002). The image shows salt production on the Yucatán coast - illustration by Raúl Velázquez Oliviera (Compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Dentistry, pre-Columbian style; illustration by Miguel Covarrubias based on a detail from a mural at Tepantitla, Teotihuacan
Dentistry, pre-Columbian style; illustration by Miguel Covarrubias based on a detail from a mural at Tepantitla, Teotihuacan (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Distillation is the process of evaporating liquid and collecting the condensation of vapours in order to extract certain substances... The Aztec had a fundamental knowledge of distillation. They were familiar with a crude form of the process that they used for extracting substances from bark, wood, liquids, roots, herbs, minerals, and plants...
’Samuel Fastlicht... writes in his book Tooth Mutliations and Dentistry in Pre-Columbian Mexico “The Aztecs knew and used alum [a natural occurring salt] for whitening teeth and knew how to obtain it in its purified and distilled form.” He also gives a partial description of how the Aztec achieved distillation: “First they pulverise the aluminous earth and pour it into great earthenware vessels ending in a point. When it is perfectly condensed it is a solid, brilliant white, transparent, and having an acrid and astringent taste”.
’After conquest, the Spaniards introduced the distillation process for making alcoholic beverages tequila and mezcal...’

Image sources:-
• Main pic: scanned from Arqueología Mexicana, no. 122, Jul-Aug 2013
• Covarrubias illustration scanned from La Odontología en el México Prehispánico by Samuel Fastlicht, self-published, Mexico, 1971.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Apr 16th 2020

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