Ancient Island Discovered in Central Mexico

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An area that was formally an island in central Mexico has recently been discovered by archaeologists who believe it was used for ritualistic purposes.  The island called Apupato, belonged to the Tarascan Empire, which dominated much of the area from around 1400 AD up to the arrival of the European conquerors in 1520.

The Lake Patzcuaro Basin was the geopolitical centre of their territory with a dense population, centralized settlement systems, engineered environment and a socially stratified society.

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Aeriel view of Apupato.  Source

According to Christopher Fisher, lead investigator and archaeologist at Colorado State University,

“Because Apupato was an island and relatively unsettled, it is a neat window into how the [Lake Pátzcuaro] basin looked like years ago.  If you would paddle up to the island [during the time], you would see a number of buildings, some temples with smoke coming out of them from rituals, and a small village of specialized people—priests, elites.”

Among the ruins of the island was a square structure believed to have been a treasury.  Next to that, a small pyramid was found with large open rooms that archaeologists believe would have been ideal for ritualistic activities.

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Small pyramid found on the island.  Source

Pipe fragments were also found in the pyramid that resemble those previously found depicted on Spanish scrolls that show people smoking pipes and drinking pulque, a drink made from agave, a crop used for alcoholic beverages such as tequila and syrup.

The scrolls also show ritual treasury caches dedicated to specific gods, Fisher said, “These caches were also used to finance activities like warfare.”  A colonial church built in the early sixteenth century and within the first twenty years of the arrival of the Spanish was also discovered on the island.

“By walking over the entire island we were able to document 2,000 years of continuous occupation, climate change and a highly engineered environment,” said Fisher.  Sixteen settlements were found and the whole island was covered in agricultural terraces, sections of land two metres wide with an earthen wall and a ditch on ether side, possibly used predominantly for growing agave.

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Prehispanic terraces.  Source

As Apupato was an island, and therefore had limited access, it can give a more preserved example of the pre-Hispanic landscape compared to other parts of the lake basin district and give a clearer view of the function of he land before European settlement.  The team of archaeologists intend to return to the area in the summer of 2009 to conduct further investigation of the area.

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