Catastrophic Volcanic Eruption Prompted Construction of Ancient Maya Pyramid, Research Suggests
Around 1,500 years ago, a powerful volcanic eruption laid waste to what is now El Salvador, sending the Maya civilization into a temporary period of decline. New research suggests a monumental pyramid located near the volcano was built by the Maya shortly afterward, as a response to the natural disaster.
The Tierra Blanca Joven eruption is the most significant Central American volcanic event of the past 10,000 years and one of the strongest eruptions on Earth to have happened within the last 7,000 years. The best current guess is that the Ilopango Caldera blew up around 539 CE, laying waste to the surrounding areas, including Maya settlements nearby. White volcanic ash, known as tephra, was waist-high as far as 22 miles (35 km) from the volcanic vent, and in some places as thick as 33 feet (10 meters).
“Just imagine—it looked like snow covering the tropical world,” Akira Ichikawa, the new paper’s sole author and an archaeologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, wrote to me in an email. “Thus, it would’ve been fatal for plants and animals living near the vent.”