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Prehistoric Polymers: Rubber Processing in Ancient Mesoamerica

Science  18 Jun 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5422, pp. 1988-1991
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5422.1988

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Abstract

Ancient Mesoamerican peoples harvested latex from Castilla elastica, processed it using liquid extracted from Ipomoea alba (a species of morning glory vine), and fashioned rubber balls, hollow rubber figurines, and other rubber artifacts from the resulting material. Chemical and mechanical analyses of the latex and of the processed rubber indicate that the enhanced elastic behavior of the rubber relative to the unprocessed latex is due to purification of the polymer component and to an increase in the strength and number of interchain interactions that are induced by organic compounds present in I. alba. These ancient peoples' control over the properties of latex and processed rubber gave rise to the Mesoamerican ball game, a central ritual element in all ancient Mesoamerican societies.

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