Maya Site Building After Volcanic Eruptions

September 29, 2021

Archaeologist Akira Ichikawa, at the University of Colorado Boulder, has found that the Maya returned to sites that were destroyed after a catastrophic volcanic eruption much sooner than thought. He studied the site of San Andrés in El Salvador.

In AD 539, the Ilopango volcano erupted, the largest in Central America over the past 10,000 years, and the largest on Earth over the past 7,000 years. it covered the area around the volcano in waist-high ash for 35 kilometers. It also blew itself apart, leaving behind a deep gash that is now a crater lake.

It greatly impacted the Maya civilization, sending it into a period of decline due to the loss of nearby settlements and cooler temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere. Historians have debated how soon the Maya returned to the area, most suggesting it took hundreds of years. Ichikawa has shown evidence of the Maya returning to a site 40 miles west of the volcano between 30 and 80 years after the eruption. They built a large pyramid using ash and dirt.

Ichikawa analyzed samples from the ground and from the Campana structure, a pyramid resting atop a large platform. He found that work on the structure appears to have begun approximately 30 years after the eruption, though it could have been as long as 80 years.

The data suggests that the Maya returned to the area quickly. They built the pyramid as a way to appease the gods who had shown their anger by setting off the eruption.

The research is published in Cambridge Core has the report here;