Recent analysis of a large 1,500-year-old pyramid made by the Maya people revealed that it was built using rocks that were ejected from a massive volcanic eruption. As a matter of fact, the volcanic eruption was the largest to have occurred in Central America in the past 10,000 years and it was so powerful that it cooled off part of the planet.
The Ilopango volcano erupted around the year 539 AD in San Andrés, El Salvador. Known as the Tierra Blanca Joven (TBJ) eruption, so much ash was released into the atmosphere over Central America that the Northern Hemisphere experienced cooler climate (almost 2 feet of ash – or 0.6 meters – would have been dumped in the valley where the pyramid was built). Additionally, the eruption spewed lava that reached dozens of miles away.
It was previously believed that since the eruption was so powerful, those living in the area abandoned their settlements and stayed away for as long as several centuries. However, Akira Ichikawa, who is an archaeologist and postdoctoral associate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder (UCB), conducted recent analysis and carbon dating of a Mayan pyramid called the Campana structure that revealed locals returned to the area much earlier than previously thought – perhaps even as soon as five years after the eruption. And after they came back, the pyramid was constructed in the Zapotitán Valley approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the volcano.
The Maya people built the pyramid by using blocks that they carved from rocks that were ejected from the volcano (these rocks are called tephra). This is actually the first evidence ever found of a Mayan pyramid being built with tephra. Furthermore, the use of tephra to construct the pyramid may have had “...powerful religious or cosmological significance” as stated in the study.
The Campana structure sits on top of a platform that is almost 20 feet in height (6 meters), 262 feet in length (80 meters), and 180 feet in width (55 meters). The platform contains four terraces and a wide central staircase while the actual pyramid measures 43 feet in height (13 meters).
The fact that the ancient Maya people were able to build something so incredible from a volcanic eruption proves that some natural disasters can have an ending that’s not so tragic and that something magnificent came from it. (A picture of the Campana structure can be seen here.)
The study was published in the journal Antiquity where it can be read in full.