by Isis Davis-Marks/Smithsonianmag.com
Around the fifth or sixth century C.E., the Tierra Blanca Joven (TBJ) volcanic eruption caused mass devastation in El Salvador. Scholars are divided on how the region’s Maya inhabitants responded to the natural disaster, but a new study suggests they proved surprisingly resilient, using rock spewed by the volcano to construct a monumental pyramid within decades of the eruption.
As George Dvorsky reports for Gizmodo, Akira Ichikawa, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, drew on excavations and radiocarbon dating to assess the so-called Campana structure, which once towered over San Andrés in El Salvador’s Zapotitán Valley. His findings, published in the journal Antiquity, indicate that the Maya began building the pyramid out of tephra, or white volcanic ash, and earth fill within 5 to 30 years of the eruption. At most, construction began 80 years after the eruption.
“Events like eruptions and drought have often been considered a main factor in ancient collapse, abandonment or decline,” Ichikawa tells National Geographic’s Erin Blakemore. “My research suggests ancient people were more resilient, flexible and innovative.”