A “lost” Mexican city built by rivals to the Aztecs has as many buildings as Manhattan and was home to around 100,000 people, according to new research.
The sprawling urban centre of Angamuco which was part of the Purépecha empire that peaked in the 16th century was detected by an aerial laser mapping technique called the Lidar system.
The approach, known as light detection and ranging scanning (lidar) involves directing a rapid succession of laser pulses at the ground from an aircraft.
The time and wavelength of the pulses reflected by the surface are combined with GPS and other data to produce a precise, three-dimensional map of the landscape. Crucially, the technique probes beneath foliage – useful for areas where vegetation is dense.
Earlier this month researchers revealed it had been used to discover an ancient Mayan city within the dense jungles of Guatemala, while it has also helped archaeologists to map the city of Caracol – another Mayan metropolis.
Now, researchers have used the technique to reveal the full extent of an ancient city in western Mexico, about a half an hour’s drive from Morelia, built by rivals to the Aztecs.
“To think that this massive city existed in the heartland of Mexico for all this time and nobody knew it was there is kind of amazing,” said Chris Fisher, an archaeologist at Colorado State University who is presenting the latest findings from the study at the conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin, Texas, this week.
While less well known than the Aztecs, the Purépecha were a major civilisation in central Mexico in the early 16th century, before Europeans arrived and wreaked havoc through war and disease. Purépecha cities included an imperial capital called Tzintzuntzan that lies on the edge of Lake Pátzcuaro in western Mexico, an area in which modern Purépecha communities still live.
Using lidar, researchers have found that the recently-discovered city, known as Angamuco, was more than double the size of Tzintzuntzan – although probably not as densely populated – extending over 26 km2 of ground that was covered by a lava flow thousands of years ago.
“That is a huge area with a lot of people and a lot of architectural foundations that are represented,” said Fisher. “If you do the maths, all of a sudden you are talking about 40,000 building foundations up there, which is [about] the same number of building foundations that are on the island of Manhattan.”
The team also found that Angamuco has an unusual layout. Monuments such as pyramids and open plazas are largely concentrated in eight zones around the city’s edges, rather being located in one large city centre. According to Fisher, more than 100,000 people are thought to have lived in Angamuco in its heyday between about 1000AD to 1350AD. “[Its size] would make it the biggest city that we know of right now in western Mexico during this period,” said Fisher.
First found by researchers in 2007, archeologists initially attempted to explore Angamuco using a traditional “boots on the ground” approach, resulting in the discovery of about 1,500 architectural features over each square kilometre surveyed. But the team soon realised the rugged terrain meant it would take at least a decade to map the whole area.
WHO WERE THE PUREPÉCHA?
The Purépecha are a group of people from the northwestern region of Michoacán, Mexico.
Their civilisation was amongst the first people in central America and today there are around 141,177 Purépecha people, according to the 2015 census.
Purépecha people speak a language of the same name (Purépecha) which is considered to be completely unique. A language totally unrelated to any other dialect found anywhere else in the world.
By the dawn of the 14th Century the Purépechan people had established the Tarascan state.
The Tarascan capital was located at Tzintzuntzan on the banks of Lake Pátzcuaro.
The rise and expansion of the Aztec Empire saw conflict and aggression between the Aztecs and the Purépechan people and resulted in many bloody wars and conflicts, the largest of which took place in 1479 AD.
The land on which Purépecha existed was rich in metal ores and the locals were skilled metal workers.
Such skills gifted the indigenous people with greater weapons and valuable items.
Superior weapons and knowledge of metal-working are widely regarded as the primary reasons why the Tarascan state were never conquered by the Aztecs.
Despite being sworn enemies and feuding for centuries, the Aztecs and the Purépechas still traded efficiently – more out of necessity than desire.
European settlers conquered the Aztec empire inthe 16th Century with guns and a strong military presence.
As well as this, they brought over smallpox, a disease that terrorized the unimmunized locals and saw the true demise of the Aztec empire.
Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
February 17th, 2018