Zeolite Filter in Guatemala May Be the World’s Oldest



“About 2000 years ago at the Maya city of Tikal in northern Guatemala the residents had a sophisticated water filter system. Special X-ray analysis and radiocarbon ages showed that drinking water in the Corriental reservoir — an important source of drinking water — was filtered through a mixture of zeolite and crystalline quartz. These minerals are used in modern water filtration.”  The Hindu


An article from Scientific Reports describes “researchers’ findings from Tikal, Guatemala, where zeolite was found in one of the largest storage facilities of Maya drinking water in use during the Late Preclassic to Late Classic cultural periods (~ 2200–1100 yr. B.P.). The apparent zeolite filtration system at Tikal’s Corriental reservoir is the oldest known example of water purification in the Western Hemisphere and the oldest known use of zeolite for decontaminating drinking water in the world.”

Scientific Reports describes the filtration system as composed of clinoptilolite (the zeolite species most p0pular in today’s filters), mordenite and sand-sized quartz crystals, held together as a filter by stone walls, woven reeds, or palm fibers. University of Cincinnati scientists who examined the filtration system say that it produced exceptionally clean water, reduced microbial contamination, and “would have protected the ancient Maya from harmful cyanobacteria and other toxins that might otherwise have made people who drank from the reservoir sick.”

Natural zeolite has become an indispensable tool in modern water treatment. For residential treatment, zeolite, especially the variety known as clinoptilolite,  has largely replaced the old residential “multi-media” sediment filters, which consisted of layered materials like sand, garnet, and anthracite. Zeolite (furnished under a variety of brand names) replaces multi-media with a single substance which is lighter, easier to maintain, easier to backwash, and in general more effective. It supports high service flow rates and needs less backwash water to maintain.  Natural zeolite can be adapted to a number of uses, including reduction of iron, hardness, and ammonia.


Fully automatic modern zeolite backwashing filter (made with natural clinoptilolite) filters down to 3 to 5 microns and supports high residential flow rates. 

Reference:  Scientific Reports.  See also Water Quality Products magazine.