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Maya: A pyramid for civil protection

Maya : A pyramid for the civil protection

1500 & nbsp; years ago a massive volcanic eruption devastated areas in what is now El Salvador. But people soon returned and built a pyramid – to soothe the mountain. by Karin Schlott The pyramid or campana structure of San Andr & eacute; s in the foreground, behind it the volcanic landscape of San Salvador. © Akira Ichikawa, University of Colorado Boulder; Press picture for Ichikawa, A .: Human responses to the Ilopango Tierra Blanca Joven eruption: excavations at San Andrés, El Salvador. Antiquity 2021 (excerpt)

It was one of the greatest natural disasters of the Holocene when the Ilopango erupted in present-day El Salvador around 1500 years ago. The eruption not only caused a cold period in the northern hemisphere, but the Mayan people left the area around the volcano for one to two centuries. At least that is the previous assumption. Archaeologists working with Akira Ichikawa from the University of Colorado Boulder have now discovered that the residents returned to the region soon after the disaster. And they took precautions to avert another eruption: In San Andrés, the Maya built a pyramid made of volcanic rock, presumably to appease the volcanic mountain.

As Ichikawa reports in the specialist journal »Antiquity«, he and his team carried out excavations on the building from 2015 to 2019. Due to its resemblance to a bell, the structure was given the name La Campana early on, corresponding to the Spanish word for bell. The building consists of an 85 & nbsp; by 65 & nbsp; meter platform with a pyramid. The ensemble rises about 20 meters.

Radiocarbon dating showed that the pyramid was built in the decades after the volcanic eruption between & nbsp; 545 and & nbsp; 620. The exact date of the eruption is controversial, but most experts place the event, also known as Tierra Blanca Joven, in the years & nbsp; 539 and & nbsp; 540. The Campana was then built using tephra and tuff that had settled and solidified after the volcanic eruption. Ichikawa is assuming a construction time of 5 to 30 years; he estimates a maximum of 80 & nbsp; years.

The volcanic building material could have been technically advantageous. The tephra of the Tierra Blanca Joven eruption is particularly suitable for compacting soils, writes the archaeologist in his study. In addition, the building material presumably assumed a religious function: “In the imagination of the Central Americans, volcanoes and mountains were considered holy places.” Accordingly, the people probably built the building on the one hand because of the eruption in 539/540 and on the other to avert further eruptions. Ichikawa suspects that the building could have strengthened the cohesion of the community in a time of crisis.

The eruption of the Ilopango and the eruption of at least one other volcano caused a cold period in the northern hemisphere. Experts also associate crisis phases in the Mediterranean region with this epoch. At that time, clouds of dust reduced solar radiation, and there were crop failures and famine, as ancient authors report. In addition, the plague was spreading in the Mediterranean region at that time.

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