New evidence emerges on how Mayas fortified maize, built indoor toilets

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A study has thrown light on how Maya people fortified their maize with the chemical process known as ‘nixtamalisation’.

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What is the Nixtamalisation technique used by Mayas?

Nixtamalisation is a method by which the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica like the Maya used to soak and cook their maize in an alkaline solution and make it more palatable, nutritious and non-toxic. Nixtamal is derived from the Nahuatl word nextamalli, meaning ‘nixtamalised maize dough’.

Note: Maize is the primary crop of the Americas and has been cultivated in the region for millennia. Maize, beans and squash are called the ‘Three Sisters’ and formed the basis of diets throughout pre-Columbian North and Mesoamerica.

Significance of Nixtamalisation technique: The researchers noted that the key reason for the spread of maize in the Americas was nixtamalisation.

– This technique ensures that the maize contains amino acids, calcium and Vitamin B2, which can be utilised by the human body. It also eliminates certain mycotoxins (toxins produced by certain moulds (fungi) and can be found in food) present in maize.

– Without this treatment, maize-dependent populations were at elevated risk of pellagra (Vitamin B2 deficiency), calcium deficiency and mycotoxin poisoning.

Moreover, researchers have also found that Nejayote, wastewater from nixtamalisation may have been used to lime the chultunes while they were used as latrines. This was done to control odours and inhibit insect and microorganism growth.

Note: A chultunes is a bottle-shaped underground storage chamber built by the pre-Columbian Maya in southern Mesoamerica.

Source: The post is based on the article “New evidence emerges on how Mayas fortified maize, built indoor toilets” published in Down To Earth on 13th June 2022.

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