BOSTON (May 25, 2010)—Pre-Columbian people succeeded in vulcanizing rubber and compounding it for different applications, according to new research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A study by Professor Dorothy Hosler and Technical Instructor Michael Tarkanian of MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering said Mesoamericans probably not only processed the sap of the local rubber trees along with juice from a vine to make rubber, but perfected a system of chemical processing that could fine-tune the properties of the rubber depending on its intended use.
The Mesoamericans made a made a strong, wear-resistant version for the soles of their sandals, the study said. For the rubber balls used in the games that were a central part of their religious ceremonies, they processed it for maximum bounciness.
They also produced rubber optimized for resilience and strength for rubber bands and adhesives used for ornamental wear and for attaching blades to shafts.
The MIT paper said the pre-Columbians used varying the proportions of the two basic ingredients, latex from rubber trees and juice from morning-glory vines, which were cooked together.
MIT said the paper with the findings will be published soon in the journal Latin American Antiquity.