The Ilopango Volcano Reexamined: When Did the Maya Civilization Perished?

new research

1590 years ago, in 431 CE, the Maya civilization perished as the Ilopango volcano erupted. Every living being within 40 kilometers around the volcano found their end tragically.

A team of researchers succeeded in finding the exact date when the volcano erupted and its nature. The discoveries and results are truly intriguing, showing the harsh fate of the Maya civilization. Here is what you need to know.

The Most Violent Eruption

Victoria Smith, an associate professor from the University of Oxford and head of the Tephrochronology group, led the recent team in what it seemed to be the most challenging work. The team, however, succeeded in establishing the precise date and nature of the Ilopango volcano eruption. 

The scientists needed first to examine an ice core recovered from Greenland. Then, to carry out radiocarbon measurements from a charred tree discovered in the TBJ ash deposits. Finally, they were able to date precisely the giant eruption within just a couple of years, in 431 CE. 

The team utilized a 3D tephra dispersal model to calculate that the eruption plume rose to 45 kilometers. The volcano’s ash was spread more than 7,000 kilometers, approximately as far away as Greenland.

However, a significant part of the recent research has been possible thanks to all the data collected during three field campaigns realized in El Salvador. The team performed a detailed mapping of the ash deposits. The deposits were present in an area of 200,000 kilometers. 

“The Ilopango eruption was more than 50 times bigger than that of Mount Saint Helens,” explained Smith. The eruption flows were 10 times higher than the volume of tose from Vesuvius that preserved the Pompeii city in ash in 79 CE. 

Ilopango was believed to have been responsible for the unusual cold decade in the Northern Hemisphere around 540 CE. However, recent research shows this period is at odds with archaeological proof (pottery production), which indicates a date near the beginning of the Early Classic period. 


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