One of the great challenges for the 21st century will be creating solutions to linked social and environmental change. Archaeology is uniquely poised to make a significant contribution to this debate by helping to explain trajectories of socio-ecosystem evolution over long time scales. With National Science Foundation support Dr. Christopher Fisher, and an international team of colleagues will conduct two seasons of multi-disciplinary research in West Central Mexico to explore relationships between climatic fluctuation, landscape change, and the formation of the Prehistoric Tarascan (Purépecha) Empire. At the time of European contact the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin (LPB) was the geopolitical core of the Tarascan Empire and has long been recognized as a Mesoamerican core region. Prior to European conquest the LPB contained a large population, centralized settlement system, social stratification, and a highly engineered environment.
Florencia Pezzutti is scheduled to complete her Masters degree in early May, based on the terrace systems of Apúpato. By the end of the summer we hope to have several manuscripts submitted on this former island and important ritual center.
Here is a recent National Geographic news story about our work on the island.
Ancient Elite Island With Pyramid Found in Mexico
for National Geographic News
An island for ancient elites has been found in central Mexico, archaeologists say. Among the ruins are a treasury and a small pyramid that may have been used for rituals.
The island, called Apupato, belonged to the powerful Tarascan Empire, which dominated much of western Mexico from A.D. 1400 to 1520, before the European conquest of the region.
“Because Apupato was an island and relatively unsettled, it is a neat window into how the [Lake Pátzcuaro] basin looked like years ago,” said Christopher Fisher, lead investigator and archaeologist at Colorado State University
“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,” Fisher said.
The Purépecha people—named Tarascan by the Spanish—were formidable enemies with their neighbors, the Aztec. From their powerful capital city and religious center Tzintzuntzan, the Tarascans successfully thwarted every attack by the Aztec.
Tarascan people valued such products as honey, cotton, feathers, and salt, and they often expanded into neighboring lands in search of these goods.
Fisher and colleagues found a square structure with a formal entrance that is believed to have been an imperial treasury.
Adjacent to the treasury is a small pyramid, which has large, open rooms that would have been suitable for ritual activity. Pipe fragments were also found near the treasury.
The pipe discoveries may bear out ritual descriptions on a previously found ancient Spanish scroll.
The scroll shows people smoking pipes and drinking pulque—a drink made of agave, a crucial crop used for alcoholic drinks, such as tequila, and syrup, Fisher said.