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The Maya ruins of Tazumal
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Tazumal (El Salvador)
Location Santa Ana Department, El Salvador
Coordinates 13°58′46″N89°40′27″W / 13.97944°N 89.67417°W / 13.97944; -89.67417
PeriodsPreclassic to Late Postclassic
Cultures Maya civilization

Tazumal (/täsuːˈm äl/) is a pre-Columbian Maya archeological site in Chalchuapa, El Salvador. Tazumal is an architectural complex within the larger area of the ancient Mesoamerican city of Chalchuapa, in western El Salvador. The Tazumal group is located in the southern portion of the Chalchuapa archaeological zone. [1] Archaeologist Stanley Boggs excavated and restored the Tazumal complex during the 1940s and 1950s. [2]

Maya civilization Mesoamerican civilization

The Maya civilization was a Mesoamerican civilization developed by the Maya peoples, and noted for its logosyllabic script—the most sophisticated and highly developed writing system in pre-Columbian Americas—as well as for its art, architecture, mathematics, calendar, and astronomical system. The Maya civilization developed in an area that encompasses southeastern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador. This region consists of the northern lowlands encompassing the Yucatán Peninsula, and the highlands of the Sierra Madre, running from the Mexican state of Chiapas, across southern Guatemala and onwards into El Salvador, and the southern lowlands of the Pacific littoral plain.

Chalchuapa Place in Santa Ana Department, El Salvador

Chalchuapa is a town and a municipality located in the Santa Ana department of El Salvador. The city of Chalchuapa is in a wide valley at 650 meters above sea level, and watered by the Pampe River.

El Salvador country in Central America

El Salvador, officially the Republic of El Salvador, is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. It is bordered on the northeast by Honduras, on the northwest by Guatemala, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. El Salvador's capital and largest city is San Salvador. As of 2016, the country had a population of approximately 6.34 million.


Archaeological investigations indicate that Tazumal was inhabited from the Classic period through to the Postclassic and that the site had links as far afield as central Mexico, the northern Yucatán Peninsula and lower Central America. Metal artifacts from the complex date to the 8th century AD and are among the earliest metal artifacts reported from Mesoamerica.

Metallurgy in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica

The emergence of metallurgy in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica occurred relatively late in the region's history, with distinctive works of metal apparent in West Mexico by roughly AD 800, and perhaps as early as AD 600. Metallurgical techniques likely diffused northward from regions in Central or South America via maritime trade routes; recipients of these metallurgical technologies apparently exploited a wide range of material, including alloys of copper-silver, copper-arsenic, copper-tin and copper-arsenic-tin.


Tazumal is situated within the municipality of Chalchuapa in the department of Santa Ana, [3] within the Río Paz drainage basin. [1] The ruins are at an altitude of 720 metres (2,360 ft) above mean sea level. [4] It is about 120 kilometres (75 mi) from the contemporary Maya city of Kaminaljuyu. [1] Tazumal is 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) southwest of the small Late Classic site of Alumulunga. [5]

Santa Ana Department Department in El Salvador

Santa Ana is a department of El Salvador in the northwest of the country. The capital is Santa Ana, one of the largest cities in El Salvador. It has 2,023 km² and a population of over 613,000. The Santa Ana Volcano is in this department.

Paz River river in southern Guatemala

The Río Paz is a river in southern Guatemala. Its sources are located in the Quezalapa mountains in the north of Jutiapa. From there it flows in a south-westerly direction and marks the border with El Salvador for most of its course before reaching the Pacific Ocean at 13°46′16″N90°10′57″W.

Kaminaljuyu archaeological site

Kaminaljuyu is a Pre-Columbian site of the Maya civilization that was primarily occupied from 1500 BC to AD 1200. Kaminaljuyu has been described as one of the greatest of all archaeological sites in the New World by Michael Coe, although its remains today – a few mounds only – are far less impressive than other Maya sites more frequented by tourists. When first mapped scientifically, it comprised some 200 platforms and pyramidal mounds, at least half of which were created before the end of the Preclassic period. Debate continues about the size, scale, and degree by which, as an economic and political entity, it integrated both the immediate Valley of Guatemala and the Southern Maya area.


Chalchuapa was inhabited since the Preclassic period, when massive construction activity took place. Around the boundary between the end of the Late Preclassic and the start of the Early Classic, construction at Tazumal was interrupted by the eruption of the Ilopango volcano, some 75 kilometres (47 mi) to the east of the city. This eruption caused a hiatus in construction activity at Tazumal that may have lasted several generations. Activity resumed during the Early to Middle Classic (c. AD 250-650) although the city never fully recovered to its Preclassic levels of activity. The Tazumal complex came closest to matching the enormous structures of the Preclassic period. [6]

Lake Ilopango

Lake Ilopango is a crater lake which fills a scenic 8 by 11 km volcanic caldera in central El Salvador, on the borders of the San Salvador, La Paz, and Cuscatlán departments. The caldera, which contains the second largest lake in the country and is immediately east of the capital city, San Salvador, has a scalloped 100 m (330 ft) to 500 m (1,600 ft) high rim. Any surplus drains via the Jiboa River to the Pacific Ocean. An eruption of the Ilopango volcano is considered a possible source for the extreme weather events of 535–536. The local military airbase, Ilopango International Airport, has annual airshows where international pilots from all over the world fly over San Salvador City and Ilopango lake.

The principal structures of the Tazumal group date to the Classic period (c. AD 250-900) of Mesoamerican chronology. By the Late Classic (c. AD 600900) Tazumal was an important ceremonial complex. [1] Construction activity is evident from the Early Classic through to the Middle Classic (c. AD 400600). [7] At this time Tazumal had important links with the Maya city of Kaminaljuyu in the Valley of Guatemala, which acted to extend the influence of the powerful central Mexican city of Teotihuacan into the Pacific coastal areas of Guatemala and El Salvador. [8] During the Late Classic Tazumal had links with Copán in Honduras, as evidenced by architecture, sculpture and ceramics at Tazumal. [9] The ceramic sequence at Tazumal continues uninterrupted from the Classic period through to approximately AD 1200. [10] A number of Early Classic features indicate links with Chichen Itza, in the northern Yucatán Peninsula, or with Tula in central Mexico. [11]

Mesoamerican chronology Divides the history of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica into several periods

Mesoamerican chronology divides the history of prehispanic Mesoamerica into several periods: the Paleo-Indian, the Archaic, the Preclassic or Formative, the Classic (250–900CE), and the Postclassic, Colonial (1521–1821), and Postcolonial (1821–present). The periodization of Mesoamerica is based on archaeological, ethnohistorical, and modern cultural anthropology research. The endeavor to create cultural histories of Mesoamerica dates to the early twentieth century, with ongoing work by archeologists, ethnohistorians, historians, and cultural anthropologists.

Maya city

Maya cities were the centres of population of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization of Mesoamerica. They served the specialised roles of administration, commerce, manufacturing and religion that characterised ancient cities worldwide. Maya cities tended to be more dispersed than cities in other societies, even within Mesoamerica, as a result of adaptation to a lowland tropical environment that allowed food production amidst areas dedicated to other activities. They lacked the grid plans of the highland cities of central Mexico, such as Teotihuacán and Tenochtitlan. Maya kings ruled their kingdoms from palaces that were situated within the centre of their cities. Cities tended to be located in places that controlled trade routes or that could supply essential products. This allowed the elites that controlled trade to increase their wealth and status. Such cities were able to construct temples for public ceremonies, thus attracting further inhabitants to the city. Those cities that had favourable conditions for food production, combined with access to trade routes, were likely to develop into the capital cities of early Maya states.

Teotihuacan pre-Columbian Mesoamerican city located in a sub valley of the Valley of Mexico

Teotihuacan, , is an ancient Mesoamerican city located in a sub-valley of the Valley of Mexico, located in the State of Mexico 40 kilometres (25 mi) northeast of modern-day Mexico City, known today as the site of many of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas. After the collapse of Teotihuacan central Mexico was dominated by the Toltecs of Tula until about AD 1150. At its zenith, perhaps in the first half of the 1st millennium CE, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, with a population estimated at 125,000 or more, making it at least the sixth largest city in the world during its epoch. The city covered 8 square miles; 80 to 90 percent of the total population of the valley resided in Teotihuacan. Apart from the pyramids, Teotihuacan is also anthropologically significant for its complex, multi-family residential compounds, the Avenue of the Dead, and its vibrant murals that have been well-preserved. Additionally, Teotihuacan exported fine obsidian tools that are found throughout Mesoamerica. The city is thought to have been established around 100 BCE, with major monuments continuously under construction until about 250 CE. The city may have lasted until sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries CE, but its major monuments were sacked and systematically burned around 550 CE.

The population of Tazumal coexisted with the Nahua-speaking Pipils from the Classic through to the Early Postclassic until at least AD 1200. [12] The Pipil influence may have been due to trade with neighbouring Pipil populations rather than a direct Pipil presence, judging by the level of evidence. [13]

Pipil people ethnic group

The Pipils or Cuzcatlecs are an indigenous people who live in western El Salvador, which they call Cuzcatlan. Their language is called Nahuat or Pipil, related to the Toltec people of the Nahuatl Nation. The Pipil language is a Uto-Toltec or Uto-Nicarao dialect of the Nahuan languages branch, a dialect chain that stretches from Utah in the United States down through El Salvador to Nicaragua in Central America. The name of the language family was created to show that it includes the greatest extent perimeter from the Ute language of Utah, to the former Toltec predecessor and the expanse margin Pipil-Nicarao successors. Evidence from archeology and ethnohistory also supports the southward diffusion thesis, especially that speakers of early Nahuatl languages migrated from northern Mexican deserts into central Mexico in several waves. Their mythology, however, is more closely related to the mythology of the Maya peoples, who are their near neighbors, and by oral tradition said to have been adopted by Ch'orti' and Poqomam Mayan people during the Pipil exodus in the 9th century CE, led by Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl.

After 1200, Tazumal was largely abandoned, with occupation shifting westwards towards the centre of what is now the modern town of Chalchuapa. [13] Chalchuapa was still occupied at the time of the Spanish conquest, at which time its inhabitants were Poqomam Maya. [1] The Pokomam are believed to have been relatively late settlers in Chalchuapa, postdating the Pipil influence that lasted until 1200. [13]

Between 1942 and 1944 Stanley Boggs excavated and restored structures B1-1 and B1-2. [14] This restoration included coating the structures with modern cement, which Boggs judged to be sufficiently similar to their original appearance as to justify its use. [15] Boggs' final report was not made generally available and no further archaeological investigations were carried out until the early 21st century. [16] In 1947 Tazumal was declared a National Historic Monument. Until 2001, the Salvadoran 100 colón note carried an illustration of the ruins of Tazumal. In 2004, the side of Structure B1-2 collapsed and the Salvadoran Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y el Arte (CONCULTURA - National Council for Culture and Art) initiated operations to excavate and stabilise the ruins. [3] During the first decade of the 21st century, two simultaneous archaeological projects were initiated, the investigation of Structure B1-2 by CONCULTURA and the Proyecto Arqueológico de El Salvador (PAES) by the Japanese University of Nagoya. [17]

Site description

All the buildings in the Tazumal complex face west. [18] Tazumal is believed to possess a Mesoamerican ballcourt; [19] this is based upon the external appearance of two unexcavated mounds that are situated in the northwestern portion of the site, within a 20th-century cemetery. One of the mounds is badly damaged. [16] Green obsidian artefacts found at Tazumal indicate links with central Mexico. [20]

Structure B1-1

View towards the main pyramid B1-1, with Structure B1-2 on the right hand side ES Tazumal 06 2011 2229.jpg
View towards the main pyramid B1-1, with Structure B1-2 on the right hand side

Structure B1-1 is the principal structure in the Tazumal group and dominates the complex. The pyramid underwent various phases of construction through the Classic and Early Postclassic periods. [6] Structure B1-1 was built upon a basal platform, called the Great Platform by Boggs, that measures 73 by 87 metres (240 by 285 ft) (east-west by north-south). [18] The pyramid was surveyed in 20032004. A 30 metres (98 ft) long platform runs north-south along the western facade of the pyramid and a platform of similar length runs east-west along the north side of the structure. [21] These two side platforms were originally built as separate structures but were later incorporated into the Great Platform; it is presumed by investigators that the temple was radially symmetrical and that further platforms existed on the east and south sides. The remains of a platform measuring 4 by 3 metres (13.1 by 9.8 ft) were found in roughly the correct position for such a platform on the east side. [18] A test pit sunk into the presumed area of the southern platform uncovered an offering containing a cylindrical ceramic vessel with a polychrome bowl placed upon it like a lid. Within the vessel were two larger pieces of jade and 50 smaller jade fragments, a fragment of seashell and a fragment of snail shell, various pieces of animal bone, mica and traces of red pigment. The offering was covered with a slab of stone. The cylindrical vessel was decorated with two panels, each containing a personage wearing a headdress and performing autosacrifice. [22]

Structure B1-1 is believed to have developed from a central temple and platforms on each side in the cardinal directions, with the west platforms serving as the main approach. [18] As the complex developed, the space between the platforms was filled to form the Great Platform, the earliest version of which measured 65 by 74 metres (213 by 243 ft). The main pyramid B1-1 was then built upon the Great Platform, behind the western platform and covering the original central temple. The Great Platform was remodelled at least three times before it reached its final dimensions. [15]

Temple of the Columns

The western platform of Structure B1-1 supports a superstructure, which has been called the Temple of the Columns. [23] Because of the westward orientation of all the structures at Tazumal, the Temple of the Columns standing on the west side of the main pyramid may have served as its main facade. This structure had square columns and two identically sized chambers, separated by a space with two columns. The northern chamber had an entrance on the east side, with a possible additional entrance on the south side. [18]

Structure B1-2

Structure B1-2 dates to the Late Classic. [24] It is located to the southwest of the main pyramid B1-1. [25] It is a west-facing pyramid with three stepped levels standing upon a low basal platform. [25] It was built using the talud-tablero style of architecture; [24] the pyramid measures 25 by 25 metres (82 by 82 ft) and stands approximately 6.8 metres (22 ft) tall. In October 2004 the south side of the pyramid collapsed; this is believed to have been caused by a combination of damage caused by the roots of nearby trees and water damage. The restoration of the pyramid with cement in the 1950s had converted the structure into a water trap, while cedar roots had penetrated the building to a height of 6 metres (20 ft) causing significant cracking. [25]

Structure B1-2 underwent four phases of construction. [26] The earliest phase had a total height of 4.7 metres (15 ft); the lowest level measured 1.1 metres (3.6 ft) high while the middle and upper levels both measured 1.8 metres (5.9 ft) high. [27] This first phase was completely covered by the second phase of construction, executed in three sub-phases (labelled 2A, 2B and 2C). [28] This was built in a style very similar to that of the first phase, first with the extension of the lower two levels while still using the earlier top level; a new third level was added later, completely covering the previous version. The lower two levels were first raised to 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) high; the middle level was then raised an additional 0.6 metres (2.0 ft) and the upper level was increased to 2 metres (6.6 ft) high. [29] Finally, a fourth level was added to the pyramid, bringing its total height to 6.5 metres (21 ft). During the third phase of construction, the structure was increased from four to five levels. The levels varied in height between them, measuring 1.2 metres (3.9 ft), 1 metre (3.3 ft), 1.4 metres (4.6 ft), 0.7 metres (2.3 ft) and 1.4 metres (4.6 ft) respectively. [30] The fourth and final construction phase was badly damaged by the collapse of the structure in 2004. [31]

Other structures

Structure B1-3 and Structure B1-4 are the two structures that comprise the ballcourt. [32] Test pits excavated during the first decade of the 21st century found the mortar floor of an I-shaped ballcourt. [33]

Structure B1-8 is a circular platform dating to the Late Classic period. [24]


Sculpture in the Tazumal site museum representing the god Xipe Totec ES Tazumal 06 2011 Xipe Totec 2292.jpg
Sculpture in the Tazumal site museum representing the god Xipe Totec

Sculpture at the site dates as far back as the Preclassic period. [34] Two Terminal Classic to Early Postclassic chacmool sculptures were recovered from Tazumal, as well as a jaguar effigy sculpture and an anthropomorphic sculpture depicting the central Mexican deity Xipe Totec. [35] These artefacts are stylistically similar to artefacts from central Mexico and the northern Yucatán Peninsula. [11] One of the crude chacmool sculptures is housed in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in San Salvador; the other is in private ownership. [13]

Metal artifacts

Three gold ornaments have been excavated from Tazumal. They were created using the lost wax method and have been tentatively dated to the 8th century AD; their presence indicates contacts with lower Central America. [36] These, together with some contemporary metal artefacts from Copán, are among the earliest reported metal artefacts from Mesoamerica. [37] These items were recovered from a Late Classic tomb and at least one item was a traded artefact from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. [38]


According to anecdotal evidence from workers who excavated the area of the presumed eastern platform of B1-1, many burials were found in that area. However, these were not mentioned by Boggs in any of his excavation reports. [18]

Burial 1 was found interred 20 centimetres (7.9 in) under the ledge joining the first and second levels of Pyramid B1-2. The burial consisted of a lower jaw and the remains of several other bones, accompanied by ceramic fragments and some obsidian artefacts. The dispersed remains indicate that Burial 1 was a secondary burial, possibly that of a human sacrifice associated with the dedication of the final phase of the pyramid. [31] The teeth indicate that the remains were those of a young adult; the associated ceramics date the burial to the Terminal Classic or Early Postclassic. [39]

Burial 2 was found under the western facade of Structure B1-2. Its dating is uncertain but it is believed to be associated with the final phase of construction and contemporaneous with Burial 1. The burial consisted of many bone fragments, including skull, longbones, ribs, jaw and vertebrae. The teeth indicate that the remains were those of a child. The remains were accompanied by ceramic pieces and some ashes. The ashes were subjected to radiocarbon dating, which indicated a date in the Late Classic to Early Postclassic, between AD 770 and 1000. [21]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 193.
  2. Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 193. Kato et al 2006, p. 211.
  3. 1 2 Kato et al 2006, p. 211.
  4. Ito and Shibata 2007, p. 872.
  5. Cobos 1994, 1998, pp. 28-29.
  6. 1 2 Sharer 1974, p. 172.
  7. Cobos 1994, 1998, pp. 63-64.
  8. Adams 1996, p. 226.
  9. Sheets 2000, p. 485.
  10. Cobos 1994, 1998, pp. 75, 80.
  11. 1 2 Cobos 1994, 1998, p. 80.
  12. Cobos 1994, 1998, pp. 81-82. Sharer 1974, p. 173.
  13. 1 2 3 4 Sharer 1974, p. 173.
  14. Cobos 1994, 1998, p. 25.
  15. 1 2 Kato et al 2006, p. 221.
  16. 1 2 Kato et al 2006, p. 212.
  17. Ito and Shibata 2007, p. 868.
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Kato et al 2006, p. 220.
  19. Parsons 1991, p. 202.
  20. Cobos 1994, 1998, p. 75.
  21. 1 2 Kato et al 2006, p. 218.
  22. Ito and Shibata 2007, p. 880.
  23. Kato et al 2006, p. 218. Kelly 1996, p. 303.
  24. 1 2 3 Cobos 1994, 1998, p. 74.
  25. 1 2 3 Kato et al 2006, p. 213.
  26. Kato et al 2006, pp. 214-217.
  27. Kato et al 2006, p. 214.
  28. Kato et al 2006, pp. 215-216.
  29. Kato et al 2006, p. 215.
  30. Kato et al 2006, p. 216.
  31. 1 2 Kato et al 2006, p. 217.
  32. Ito and Shibata 2008, p. 461.
  33. Kato et al 2006, p. 218. Ito and Shibata 2008, p. 461.
  34. Parsons 1991, p. 209.
  35. Cobos 1994, 1998, pp. 74-75, 80.
  36. Sheets 2000, p. 433.
  37. Sorenson 1954, p. 64.
  38. Bray 1971, p. 38.
  39. Kato et al 2006, pp. 217-218.

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North Acropolis, Tikal

The North Acropolis of the ancient Maya city of Tikal in Guatemala is an architectural complex that served as a royal necropolis and was a centre for funerary activity for over 1300 years. The acropolis is located near the centre of the city and is one of the most studied of Maya architectural complexes. Excavations were carried out from 1957 to 1969 by the University of Pennsylvania, directed by Edwin M. Shook and William Coe.


Guaytán is an archaeological site of the Maya civilization in the municipality of San Agustín Acasaguastlán, in the department of El Progreso, in Guatemala. It is the most important pre-Columbian archaeological site of the middle drainage of the Motagua River.


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Ito, Noboyuki; Shione Shibata (2008). J.P. Laporte, B. Arroyo and H. Mejía, ed. "Las investigaciones arqueológicas en Tazumal, Chalchuapa, 2006-2007" (PDF). Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala (in Spanish). Guatemala City, Guatemala: Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología. XXI (2007): 458–474. Retrieved 2013-08-14.
Kato, Shinya; Shione Shibata; Noboyuki Ito (2006). J.P. Laporte, B. Arroyo and H. Mejía, ed. "Las investigaciones arqueológicas en Tazumal, 2004-2005" (PDF). Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala (in Spanish). Guatemala City, Guatemala: Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología. XIX (2005): 211–222. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
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Further reading

Atwood, Roger (Sep–Oct 2006). "Deconstructing a Maya Pyramid" (abstract). Archaeology. 59 (5): 30–35. ISSN   0003-8113 . Retrieved 2007-07-23.
Murano, Masakage; Masashi Kudo; Akira Ichikawa; Nobuyuki Ito; Shione Shibata (2011). B. Arroyo; L. Paiz; A. Linares; A. Arroyave, eds. "Los entierros encontrados en Tazumal, Chalchuapa, un estudio de prácticas mortuorias" (PDF) (in Spanish). XXIV (2010). Guatemala City, Guatemala: Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología: 697–716. Retrieved 2013-08-14.
Shibata, Shione; Masakage Murano (2008). J. P. Laporte, B. Arroyo and H. Mejía, ed. "Investigación arqueológica en el Edificio de las Columnas (B1-1d) de Tazumal, Chalchuapa" (PDF). Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala (in Spanish). Guatemala City, Guatemala: Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología. XXI (2007): 1305–1329. Retrieved 2013-08-14.
Shook, Edwin M.; Elayne Marquis (1996). Secrets in Stone: Yokes, Hachas and Palmas from Southern Mesoamerica. Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 217. Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society and Diane Publishing. ISBN   0-87169-217-1. OCLC   35046509.