Archaeologists have discovered the oldest pressurized water system in the New World, an aqueduct-tunnel system in the southern Mexico site of Palenque that probably powered a fountain or a waste water system.
Such pressurized water systems appeared in the Old World at least as long ago as 1400 BC: The remains of such a system have been found in a Minoan palace in Crete. But the apparent lack of similar remains in the Americas led most archaeologists to assume that they did not appear here until they were brought by the Spanish in the 16th century.
The new find in the Maya city, which was first occupied about AD 100 and abandoned 700 years later, indicates that at least one American culture developed such systems independently. Pressurized water systems are necessary for fountains, among other uses. If water is not pressurized, it simply bubbles out of the ground rather than spraying dramatically upward in a display.
The aqueduct-tunnel structure was discovered in 1998 by then-graduate student Kirk D. French when he was part of a team mapping the city's ruins, but he did not immediately recognize its significance. It was only when French, now at Pennsylvania State University, consulted hydrologist Christopher J. Duffy of Penn State and the pair returned to the site that they appreciated the structure's import, French said.