Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Volcanism, Ecology and Culture: A Reassessment of the Volcán Ilopango TBJ Eruption in the Southern Maya Realm

  • Robert A. Dull (a1), John R. Southon (a2) and Payson Sheets (a3)
Abstract

The Tierra Blanca Joven (TBJ) eruption of the Ilopango caldera in central El Salvador was one of the largest Holocene volcanic events in Central America, and its ecological and cultural impacts were felt throughout El Salvador and adjoining areas of Guatemala and Honduras. Early radiocarbon measurements established a ca. A. D. 260 ± 114 calendar date for the eruption. However, a reevaluation of the original 14C dates, in addition to new AMS 14C assays, shows that the TBJ eruption occurred at least a century and a half later than originally estimated. The revised 14C composite supports an Early Classic Period calendar date for the eruption: 1 sigma = A. D. 421(429)526; 2 sigma = A. D. 408(429)536. A review of archaeological settlement, ceramic, and radiocarbon evidence from sites throughout the area of greatest devastation reveals a large-scale demographic collapse following the event. We believe that the population crash was caused both by the biophysical effects of the eruption and by the resulting disarticulation of the "Miraflores" cultural-economic sphere. The affected areas of El Salvador and south-eastern Guatemala did not completely recover until the seventh century A. D.

Resumen

La erupción del Tierra Blanca Joven (TBJ) de la caldera de Ilopando en la porción central de El Salvador, fue uno de los eventos volcánicos más grandes del Holoceno en Centroamérica. El Salvador y zonas limítrofes de Guatemala y Honduras resintieron el impacto ecológico y cultural de este evento. Con base en los fechamientos de radiocarbono con que se contaba previamente la erupción se dató hacia 260 + 114 d. C. Sin embargo, una reevaluación de esas fechas además de otras recientemente procesadas, muestran que la erupción del TBJ ocurrió cuando menos siglo y medio después de lo que se había calculado originalmente. De esta manera, se fundamenta la adscripción temporal de la erupción en el periodo Clásico Temprano: 1 sigma = 421 (429) 526 d. C.; 2 sigma = 408 (429) 536 d. C. Una revisión de los asentamientos arqueológicos, la cerámica y las fechas de radiocarbono de varios sitios en el área que sufrió la mayor devastación, en el occidente de El Salvador y el sureste de Guatemala, evidencian un colapso demográfico a gran escala después del evento. La mayoría de las personas que habitaban en un área de 1000 km2 al occidente de la caldera del Ilopango -incluyendo el valle de San Salvador y partes del valle de Zapotitán- deben haber perecido instantáneamente a causa del impacto de materiales piroclásticos; quienes vivían más al occidente, en la cuenca del Río Paz y en la costa suroeste de El Salvador, probablemente abandonaron los pueblos a causa del colapso agrícola, el hambre y las enfermedades. En el sureste de Guatemala, donde los efectos biofísicos de la erupción no fueron tan severos, al parecer el decremento poblacional se debió a la desarticulación resultante de la esfera económico-cultural Miraflores. Los desplazados por el desastre que migraron hacia el norte, posiblemente contribuyeron al crecimiento de la población rural del valle de Guatemala y del centro urbano de Copán, Honduras. Las áreas que resultaron afectadas por el evento volcánico en El Salvador y el sureste de Guatemala lograron recuperarse hasta el siglo VII d. C.

Copyright
References
Hide All
Amaroli, Paul 1987 Informe preliminar de las excavaciones arqueológicas en Cara Sucia, Departamento de Ahuachapan, El Salvador. Ministerio de Cultura y Communicaciones, Directión de Patrimonio Cultural. San Salvador, El Salvador.
Amaroli, Paul, and Dull, Robert 1999 Milpas prehispánicas en El Salvador. In XII Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala, 1998, edited by Juan Pedro Laporte, Héctor L. Escobedo and Ana Claudia Monzón de Suasnáver, pp. 639650. Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología.
Anderson, T. 1908 The Volcanoes of Guatemala. Royal Geographical Society 473–489
Andrews, Anthony P. 1991 Las salinas de El Salvador: bosquejo histórico, etnográfico y arqueológico. Mesoamerica 12(21):7193.
Andrews, E. Wyllys 1986 La arqueología de Quelepa. Direction de Publicaciones y Impresos, San Salvador.
Angell, J. K., and Korshover, J. 1985 Surface Temperature Changes Following Six Major Volcanic Episodes between 1780 and 1980. Journal of Climate and Applied Meteorology 24:937951.
Antos, Joseph A., and Zobel, Donald B. 1987 How Plants Survive Burial: A Review and Initial Responses to Tephra from Mount St. Helens. In Mount St. Helens 1980: Botanical Consequences of the Explosive Eruptions, edited by David E. Bilderback, pp. 246259. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Arroyo, Barbara 1993 Spindle Whorls from Balberta. In The Balberta Project, edited by Frederick J. Bove, Sonia Medrano, Brenda Lou, and Barbara Arroyo, pp. 137144. University of Pittsburgh Department of Anthropology and Asociación Tikal, Pittsburgh.
Bergmann, John F. 1969 The Distribution of Cacao Cultivation in Pre-Columbian America. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 59:8596.
Blong, R. J. 1984 Volcanic Hazards: A Sourcebook on the Effects of Eruptions. Academic Press Australia, North Ryde, New South Wales.
Bove, Frederick J. 1993a Balberta in Perspective. In The Balberta Project, edited by Frederick J. Bove, Sonia Medrano, Brenda Lou, and Barbara Arroyo, pp. 114. University of Pittsburgh Department of Anthropology and Asociación Tikal, Pittsburgh.
Bove, Frederick J. 1993b The Terminal Formative-Early Classic Transition. In The Balberta Project, edited by Frederick J. Bove, Sonia Medrano, Brenda Lou, and Barbara Arroyo, pp. 177194. University of Pittsburgh Department of Anthropology and Asociación Tikal, Pittsburgh.
Brady, James E., Ball, Joseph W., Bishop, Ronald L., Pring, Duncan C., Hammond, Norman, and Housley, Rupert A. 1998 The Lowland Maya “Protoclassic.” Ancient Mesoamerica 9:1738.
Briffa, Keith R. 2000 Annual Climate Variability in the Holocene: Interpreting the Message of Ancient Trees. Quaternary Science Reviews 19:87105.
Bryson, Reid A., and Goodman, Brian M. 1980 Volcanic Activity and Climatic Changes. Science 207:10411044.
Coe, Michael D., and Flannery, Kent V. 1967 Early Cultures and Human Ecology in South Coastal Guatemala. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology 3. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.
D’Arrigo, Rosanne D., and Jacoby, Gordon C. 1999 Northern North American Tree-Ring Evidence for Regional Temperature Changes after Major Volcanic Events. Climatic Change 41:115.
Daugherty, Howard E. 1969 Man-Induced Ecological Change in El Salvador. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles. University Microfilms, Ann Arbor.
Demarest, Arthur A. 1986 The Archaeology of Santa Leticia and the Rise of Maya Civilization. Tulane University Middle America Research Institute, New Orleans.
Demarest, Arthur A. 1988 Political Evolution in the Maya Borderlands: The Salvadoran Frontier. In The Southeast Classic Maya Zone, edited by Elizabeth H. Boone and Gordon R. Willey, pp. 335394. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library, Washington, DC.
Demarest, Arthur A., and Sharer, Robert J. 1986 Late Preclassic Ceramic Spheres, Culture Areas, and Cultural Evolution in the Southeastern Highlands of Mesoamerica. In The Southeast Maya Periphery, edited by Patricia A. Urban and Edward M. Schortman, pp. 194223. University of Texas Press, Austin.
Denevan, William M. 1992 Introduction. hiThe Native Population of the Americas in 1492. 2nd ed. Edited by William M. Denevan, pp. xvxli. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.
Dull, Robert 1998 Late Holocene Human Ecology of the Chalchuapa Archaeological Zone: A 3700 Year Stratigraphic Record of Agriculture, Erosion, Fire and Vegetation Change from Laguna Cuzcachapa, Western El Salvador. Paper presented at the 15th Biennial Meeting of the American Quaternary Association, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Earnest, Howard 1999 A Reappraisal of the Ilopango Volcanic Eruption in Central El Salvador. Doctoral Disseration, Harvard University. University Microfilms, Ann Arbor.
Eggler, Willis A. 1948 Plant Communities in the Vicinity of the Volcano El Parícutin, Mexico, after Two and a Half Years of Eruption. Ecology 29(4):415436.
Eggler, Willis A. 1963 Plant Life of Parícutin Volcano, Mexico, Eight Years after Activity Ceased. American Midland Naturalist 69(1):3868.
Estrada Belli, Francisco 1997 Survey in Jutiapa, Southeastern Guatemala. Mexicon 20(3):5559.
Estrada Belli, Francisco 1998 The Evolution of Complex Societies in Southeastern Pacific Coastal Guatemala: A Regional GIS Archaeological Approach .Ph.D. dissertation, Boston University. University Microfilms, Ann Arbor.
Fash, William L. Jr. 1986 History and Characteristics of Settlement in the Copan Valley, and Some Comparisons with Quirigua. In The Southeast Maya Periphery, edited by Patricia A. Urban and Edward M. Schortman, pp. 7293. University of Texas Press, Austin.
Feldman, Lawrence H. 1993 Mountains of Fire, Lands That Shake: Earthquakes and Volcanic Eruptions in the Historic Past of Central America (1505–1899). Labyrinthos, Culver City, California.
Fisher, Richard V., Heiken, Grant, and Hulen, Jeffrey B. 1997 Volcanoes: Crucibles of Change. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
Fowler, William R., and Earnest, Howard H. 1985 Settlement Patterns and Prehistory of the Paraíso Basin of El Salvador. Journal of Filed Archaeology 12:1932.
Fritz, Gayle J. 1994 Are the First American Farmers Getting Younger? Current Anthropology 35(3):305309.
Graham, John, and Heizer, Robert 1968 Notes on the Papalhuapa Site. Contributions of the University of California Archaeological Research Facility 5:101125.
Harrison, Kevin, Broecker, Wallace S., and Bonani, Georges 1993 A Strategy for Estimating the Impact of CO2 Fertilization on Soil Carbon Storage. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 7:6978.
Hart, William, and Steen-Mclntyre, Virginia 1983 Tierra Blanca Joven Tephra from the AD 260 Eruption of Ilopango Caldera. In Archaeology and Volcanism in Central America., edited by Payson D. Sheets, pp. 1434. Texas Pan American Series. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
Henderson, John S. 1997 The World of the Ancient Maya. 2nd ed. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
Jenny, Hans 1941 Factors of Soil Formation. Dover Publications, New York.
Jones, P. D., Briffa, Keith R., and Schweingruber, F. H. 1995 Tree-Ring Evidence of the Widespread Effects of Explosive Volcanic Eruptions. Geophysical Research Letters 22(11):13331336.
Lardé, Jorge 1926 Cronología arqueológica de El Salvador. Revista de Etnología, Arqueología y Linguística 1(3–4):153162.
Lardé y Larin, Jorge 1957 El Salvador: historia de sus pueblos, villas y ciudades. Departamento Editorial del Ministerio de Cultura, San Salvador.
Lawn, Barbara 1974 University of Pennsylvania Radiocarbon Dates XVII. Radiocarbon 16(2):219237.
Leyden, Barbara W. 1987 Man and Climate in the Maya Lowlands. Quaternary Research 28:407414.
Long, Austin, Benz, Bruce, Donohue, Douglas J., Timothy Jull, A.J., and Toolin, Larry 1989 First Direct AMS Dates on Early Maize from Tehuacán, Mexico. Radiocarbon 31:10351040.
Lothrop, Samuel K. 1927 Pottery Types and Their Sequence in El Salvador. Indian Notes and Monographs 1(4).
Lovell, W. George, and Lutz, Christopher H. 1995 Demography and Empire. Dellplain Latin American Studies, Number 33. Westview Press, Boulder.
Marcus, Joyce 1978 Archaeology and Religion: A Comparison of the Zapotec and Maya. World Archaeology 10(2):172191.
Michael, Henry N., and Klein, Jeffrey 1979 An International Calibration for Radiocarbon Dates. MASCA Journal 1(2):5657.
Michels, Joseph W. 1979 The Kaminaljuyu Chiefdom. The Pennsylvania State University Press Monograph Series on Kaminaljuyú. Pennsylvania State University.
Moholy-Nagy, Hattula 1999 Mexican Obsidian at Tikal, Guatemala. Latin American Antiquity 10(3):30031l
Neff, Hector, Bove, Frederick J., Robinson, Eugenia J., and Arroyo, Barbara 1994 A Ceramic Compositional Perspective on the Formative to Classic Transition in Southern Mesoamerica. Latin American Antiquity 5:333358.
Neff, Hector, Cogswell, James W., Kosakowsky, Laura J., Belli, Francisco Estrada, and Bove, Frederick J. 1999 A New Perspective on the Relationships among Cream Paste Ceramic Traditions of Southeastern Mesoamerica. Latin American Antiquity 10:281299.
Parsons, Lee A. 1967 Bilbao, Guatemala: An Archeological Study of the Pacific Coast Cotzumalguapa Region. Publications in Anthropology, No. 11. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukeee.
Portig, W. H. 1965 Central American Rainfall. Geographical Review 55:6890.
Rees, John D. 1979 Effects of the Eruption of Parícutin Volcano on Landforms, Vegetation and Human Occupancy. In Volcanic Activity and Human Ecology, edited by Payson D. Sheets and Donald K. Grayson, pp. 249292. Academic Press, New York.
Rose, William I., Michael Conway, F., Pullinger, Carlos, Deino, Alan, and Mcintosh, William C. 1999 An Improved Age Framework for Late Quaternary Silicic Eruptions in Northern Central America. Bulletin of Volcanology 61:106120
Sanders, William, and Michaels, Joseph 1977 Teotihuacan and Kaminaljuyu: A Study in Prehistoric Culture Contact. Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park.
Sapper, Carlos K. (Karl) 1925 Los volcánes de la América Central. Estudios sobre América Central. Verlag von Max Niemeyer, Halle.
Sapper, Karl 1927 Volkankunde. J. Engelhorns Nachf., Stuttgart.
Scarth, Alwyn 1999 Vulcan’s Fury: Man against the Volcano. Yale University Press, New Haven.
Schortman, Edward M., and Urban, Patricia A. 1991 Patterns of Late Preclassic Interaction and the Formation of Complex Society in the Southeast Maya Periphery. In The Formation of Complex Society in Southeastern Mesoamerica, edited by William R. Fowler, Jr., pp. 121142. CRC Press, Inc., Boca Raton, Florida.
Scheie, Linda, and Freidel, David 1990 The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya. Morrow, New York.
Scuderi, Louis A. 1990 Tree-Ring Evidence for Climatically Effective Volcanic Eruptions. Quaternary Research 34:6785.
Sharer, Robert J. 1974 Prehistory of the Southeastern Maya Periphery. Current Anthropology 15(2): 165176.
Sharer, Robert J. 1978a The Prehistory of Chachuapa, El Salvador, vol. 1. The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
Sharer, Robert J. 1978b The Prehistory of Chachuapa, El Salvador, vol. 3. The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Sharer, Robert J. 1994 The Ancient Maya. Stanford University Press, Palo Alto.
Sharer, Robert J., and Gifford, James C. 1970 Preclassic Ceramics from Chalchuapa, El Salvador, and Their Relationships With the Maya Lowlands. American Antiquity 35(4):441462.
Sharer, Robert J., Traxler, Loa P., Sedat, David W, Bell, Ellen E., Canuto, Marcello A., and Powell, Christopher 1999 Early Classic Architecture beneath the Copan Acropolis. Ancient Mesoamerica 10(1999):323.
Sheets, Payson D. 1971 An Ancient Natural Disaster. Expedition 13(1):2431.
Sheets, Payson D. 1979 Environmental and Cultural Effects of the Ilopango Eruption in Central America. In Volcanic Activity and Human Ecology, edited by Payson D. Sheets and Donald K. Grayson, pp. 525564. Academic Press, New York.
Sheets, Payson D. 1981 Volcanoes and the Maya. Natural History 90(8):3241.
Sheets, Payson D. 1983a Archaeology and Volcanism in Central America. University of Texas Press, Austin.
Sheets, Payson D. 1983b Introduction. In Archaeology and Volcanism in Central America., edited by Payson D. Sheets, pp. 113. Texas Pan American Series. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
Sheets, Payson D. 1984 The Prehistory of El Salvador: An Interpretive Summary. In The Archaeology of Lower Central America, edited by Frederick W Lange and Doris Z. Stone, pp. 85112. New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.
Sheets, Payson D. 1987 Possible Repercussions in Western Honduras of the Third-Century Eruption of Ilopango Volcano. In The Periphery of the Southeastern Maya Realm, edited by Gary Pahl, pp. 4352. Vol. 61, UCLA Latin American Center Publications, Los Angeles.
Shook, Edwin M. 1965 Archaeological Survey of the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. In Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 2, edited by Gordon R. Willey, pp. 180194. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
Shook, Edwin M., Hatch, Marion P., and Donaldson, Jamie K. 1979 Ruins of Semetabaj, Dept. Solola, Guatemala. In Contributions of the University of California Archaeological Research Facility, edited by John A. Graham, pp. 7142. Studies in Ancient Mesoamerica, IV. vol. 41. Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley.
Simkin, Tom, and Siebert, Lee 1994 Volcanoes of the World. 2nd ed. Geoscience Press, Tucson.
Smith, Keith 1992 Environmental Hazards: Assessing Risk and Reducing Disaster. Routledge Physical Environment Series. Routledge, London.
Squier, E. G. 1860 Nicaragua; Its People, Scenery, Monuments, Resources, Condition, and Proposed Canal; with One Hundred Original Maps and Illustrations. Harper & Brothers, New York.
Stevens, Rayfred L. 1964 The Soils of Middle America and Their Relation to Indian Peoples and Cultures. In Handbook of Middle American Indians, Vol. 1: Natural Environment and Early Cultures, edited by Robert C. West, pp. 265315. University of Texas Press, Austin.
Stuiver, Minze, and Deevey, Edward S. 1961 Yale Natural Radiocarbon Measurements VI. Radiocarbon 3:126140.
Stuiver, Minze, Reimer, Paula J., Bard, Eduard, Warren Beck, J., Burr, George S., Hughen, Konrad A., Kromer, Bernd, McCormac, Gerry, van der Plicht, Johannes, and Spurk, Marco 1998 INTCAL98 Radiocarbon Age Calibration 24,000-0 Cal BP. Radiocarbon 40:10411083.
Thompson, J. Eric S. 1970 Maya History and Religion. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
Thorarinsson, Sigurdur 1979 On the Damage Caused by Volcanic Eruptions with Special Reference to Tephra and Gasses. In Volcanic Activity and Human Ecology, edited by Payson D. Sheets and Donald K. Grayson, pp. 125160. Academic Press, New York.
Thornton, Ian W.B. 1996 Krakatau: The Destruction and Reassembly of an Island Ecosystem. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Thornton, Ian W.B. 2000 The Ecology of Volcanoes: Recovery and Reassembly of Living Commumties. In Encyclopedia of Volcanoes, edited by Haraldur Sigurdsson, Bruce Houghton, Stephen R. McNutt, Hazel Rymer, and John Stix, pp. 10571081. Academic Press, San Diego.
Tilling, Robert I. (editor) 1989 Volcanic Hazards. American Geophysical Union, Washington, D.C.
Ugolini, F. C., and Zasoski, J. 1979 Soils Derived from Tephra. In Volcanic Activity and Human Ecology, edited by Payson D. Sheets and Donald K. Grayson, pp. 83124. Academic Press, New York.
Vogel, John S., Cornell, Winton C., Earle Nelson, D., and Southon, John R. 1990 Vesuvius/Avellino, One Possible Source of Seventeenth Century BC Climatic Disturbances. Nature 344:534537.
Wauchope, Robert, and Bond, Margaret 1989 Archaeological Investigations in the Department of Jutiapa, Guatemala. Middle American Research Institute, Publication 55. Tulane University, New Orleans.
Wilkie, James W., and Ortega, José Guadalupe (editors) 1997 Statistical Abstracts of Latin America. 33. The Regents of the University of California, Los Angeles.
Williams, Howel 1952 The Great Eruption of Coseguina, Nicaragua, in 1835. University of California Publications in Geological Sciences 29(2):2146.
Williams, Howell, and McBirney, Alexander R. 1979 Volcanology. Freeman, Cooper & Co., San Francisco.
Wright, H. E., Mann, D. H., and Glasser, P. H. 1984 Piston Corers for Peat and Lake Sediments. Ecology 65:657659.
Young, Allen M. 1994 The Chocolate Tree: A Natural History of Cacao. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.
Zielinski, Gregory A. 1995 Stratospheric Loading and Optical Depth Estimates of Explosive Volcanism over the Last 2100 Years Derived from the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 Ice Core. Journal of Geophysical Research 100(D10):20,93720,955.
Zielinski, Gregory A. 2000 Use of Paleo-Records in Determining Variability within theVolcanism-Climate System. Quaternary Science Reviews 19:417438.
Zielinski, Gregory A., Mayewski, Paul A., Meeker, L.D., Whitlow, S., Twickler, M.S., Morrison, M., Meese, Deborah A., Gow, A. J., and Alley, Richard B. 1994 Record of Volcanism since 7000 B.C. From the Gisp2 Greenland Ice Core and Implications for the Volcano-Climate System. Science 264:948957.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Latin American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 1045-6635
  • EISSN: 2325-5080
  • URL: /core/journals/latin-american-antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed