Friday, June 5, 2009

Plants are Important

An archaeologist and a botanist have teamed up to study artwork from the Mayan Classical period, dating from 250 BCE to 900 CE.

You might wonder, what is a botanist doing studying ancient art? Turns out the Mayans created lots of ceramic pieces depicting various plants of the rain forest, many with such accuracy that the genus and species of the plants can be determined. The scientists are trying to identify which plants were of importance to the people, in "hopes [that] the research will unveil secrets known to the Maya that have become lost in time."

What kind of secrets are they looking for? The archaeologist Charles Zadir says:
The Maya have lived and used rainforest plants to heal themselves for thousands of years. We are just beginning to understand some of their secrets.

That's great! Plants are awesome! It's wonderful that there are people out there advocating for the preservation of the rain forest and for research into the importance of plants in our lives.

But wait... keep reading:
This research has already been of interest to pharmaceutical companies that are looking to extract alkaloids from plants that were important to the ancient Maya.

Aw, man! Just when you thought that you could escape the clutches of greed, the truth comes out. In the researchers' defense, they probably had to provide some lucrative justification for the work that they're doing, otherwise they wouldn't get funding. But, it just irks me that there always has to be some kind of monetary motive.

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