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 Location: Valley of Mexico, Mexico.  Grid Reference: 19 18' 06" N, 99 10' 54" W.


      Cuicuilco: (Circular Pyramid).

Cuicuilco is an important early Mesoamerican site which is said to have developed in Central Mexico during the Formative period, between 700 B.C. and A.D. 400, when it was totally destroyed by a volcanic eruption.

According to translations of ancient Nahuatl, Cuicuilco is variously interpreted as the 'Place of Power' or the 'Place of the Rainbow' and the 'place where they make songs and dances'.

Cuicuilco is the only conical or circular pyramid in Mesoamerica, and the earliest.


 The Cuicuilco Pyramid:

Although the pyramid was discovered in 1920 by archaeologist Manuel Gamio, the first investigations at Cuicuilco were carried out by Byron Cumming, between 1923 and 1924, which led to the discovery of the civic core of the site and the main pyramid. In 1968, during the construction work for a swimming pool for the Olympics, other smaller, rectangular pyramids were discovered.

The most important building of Cuicuilco is the circular pyramid made of four platforms and covered in stone, 27 m (ca 90 ft.) high and 80 m (260 ft.) in diameter. A series of superimposed altars were found atop the pyramid. These were painted in red with traces of haematite. Next to the Pyramid of Cuicuilco was discovered and excavated the ancient city of Ticoman.

The first stone monument on the Mexican plateau is the pyramid of Cuicuilco, near Mexico City. In fact, it is a truncated cone, with a stone core; the rest is made of sun-dried brick with a stone facing. It shows the main features of the Mexican pyramids as they were developed in later times. (4)


Dating The Cuicuilco Pyramid.

Cumming's dated the pyramid at around 6,000 BC, based on the depth of the Lava Pedigral', which is up to 10m deep in places. Knowing the date of the last eruption, and seeing that there was approximately 3 times more lava below, he concluded that it must be three times older. It is now known that the earlier eruptions occurred over a 500 year period.

By 200 BC, Cuicuilco was one of the most important and larger centres in Central Mexico, and it has been estimated that its area covered approximately 400 ha, with a population of 20,000 people. At around 60 BC a first eruption of the volcano Xitli covered most of the centre and its cultivated fields, severely affecting the life of the community. Cuicuilco, however, continued to live as a smaller centre until 400 AD, when a final volcanic eruption definitely buried the site.

Radiocarbon dating of the Pyramid was determined by Fergusson and Libby, in 1963. The test for the base of the sediments gave an age of 2,200 years B.P. Radiocarbon dates from below the lava flow date the original construction of the building between 800 and 600 BC. (2) Discovery of a campfire at the base of the building has placed the earliest occupation of the area at 2,000 BC (7)

The Cuicuilco pyramid was one of the first true urban centres in the Basin of Mexico. Its construction started a few centuries BC, during the Late Pre-classic period. The pyramid is partially covered by a basaltic lava flow produced by the Xitle monogenetic volcano. New work around the pyramid and the volcano together with new radiocarbon dates indicate that the pyramid and nearby settlements were abandoned as a direct consequence of the volcanic activity of Xitle. The new dates, obtained from material which clearly is contemporaneous with the volcanic activity, suggest that the eruption took place around 1670 years BP, some 300 years later than previously thought. (3)

"He with the navel" (Xitli), according to the scribe Alva Ixtlilxochitl, "opened the earth and swept everything in its path, on the day Ahui-Quiahuitl, in the year 8-Tecpatl," this translates into April 24 of 76 A.D." (1)

Archaeology has concluded that Cuicuilco was a prominent community prior to the emergence of Teotihuacan as an urban centre, noting the six small communities which eventually combined to become Teotihuacan were founded and showing evidence of modest growth during the time Cuicuilco was building pyramids and public monuments. The city seems to have been abandoned at around the same time that Teotihuacan entered its main growth phase, following the eruption of the Xitle volcano.

The site of Cuicuilco is covered by  dense volcanic lava field known as the Pedegral de San Angel. The lava covers an area of approximately 80km2, including the foothills of the Ajusco mountain range and extending down to the nearby lake shore. A 1956 study concluded that the uneven lave deposits, reaching a depth of over 10m in areas, were a major factor in the preservation of Cuicuilco. The site is also inside a modern urban area, and is partially covered by buildings associated with the National University of Mexico. Only partial archaeological investigation has been possible and modern techniques have damaged the prehistoric city. Several 1990 archaeological finds at Cuicuilco, were destroyed for the construction of a multi-storied office complex. Consequently the true size and complexity of the original site may now be impossible to ascertain. (5)

cuicuilco pyramid, mexico

A stela discovered near the pyramid of Cuicuilco is suggested as proof an ancient connection between the Cuicuilco culture and that of the contemporary Olmecs, considered until recently the mother culture of Mesoamerica. (6)

Of great surprise to archaeologists was the fact that the entire structure of the pyramid was found to have been covered with a laayer of yellow earth just over 1metre thick, suggesting that the settlers had known in advance of the eruption and had attempted to preserve the building. Numerous female figurines were found, very similar if not exactly equal to those found in many Palaeolithic European sites, as well as large menhirs over a metre tall which are believed to have come from the collapse of other structures of the pyramid. In addition, there are large numbers of burials arranged radially around the pyramid. (7)


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1). http://www.delange.org/Cuicuilco/Cuicuilco.htm
2). http://intercosmos.iespana.es/reportajes/ciencia/cuicuilco.htm
3). http://sp.lyellcollection.org/cgi/content/abstract/171/1/205
4). http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/145983/Cuicuilco
5). http://www.reference.com/browse/Cuicuilco
6). http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-19479277.html
7). http://www.paleoastronautica.com/106_piramide_cuicuilco.html


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