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Tazumal, the most complex architectural group within the Chalchuapa archaeological zone in western El Salvador, in the present-day department of Santa Ana. It was an important ceremonial and residential center for over a millennium, from the Late Preclassic to the Early Postclassic period (1–1300 ce). The largest Classic center in western El Salvador, Tazumal marks the boundary between the Maya to the west and north, and the non-Maya to the southeast.

The Chalchuapa archaeological zone is located in a broad, fertile basin that is ecologically and physiographically intermediate between the Pacific coastal plain and the Maya highlands. It is composed of a series of ceremonial and residential areas, of which Tazumal is the southernmost.

A massive pyramid temple atop a substructural platform dominates the site. A smaller platform, a ball court, and several house mounds complete the group. Construction of Tazumal probably began around 1 ce. Construction of the pyramid foundation was interrupted about 250 ce, when the Ilopango volcano erupted violently, blanketing the site with ash, which rendered the area uninhabitable. Construction resumed between 450 and 650 ce. Basic construction materials were earthen fill, adobe brick or stone set in adobe, and lime-plaster facing painted white. The style of the pyramid is akin to the neighboring and contemporary Teotihuacán-influenced Kaminaljuyú.

The final, main period of architectural construction at Tazumal lasted from 650 to 1300 ce and witnessed the repeated expansion of the pyramid to its final, massive dimensions—over 23,544 cubic yards in volume. One of the last structures built at Tazumal was the smaller platform, constructed during the Postclassic period (900–1400 ce).

Several stone sculptures have been found at Tazumal, including a stela, known as the "Virgin of Tazumal," in the Late Classic Copán Maya tradition. Of the many freestanding sculptures, two were Chacmools, Mexican sacrificial altars.

The contents of several tombs at Tazumal indicate Honduran and other Central American contact. Polychrome pottery from Copán and the Ulúa Valley, both in western Honduras, was found in tombs at Tazumal. One tomb contained copper-gold figurines from the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica.

As a border area between the Maya and non-Maya, Tazumal never reached a size comparable to its early Classic ally, Kaminaljuyú, or its Late Classic ally, Copán; but neither did it suffer the devastating effects of shifting Classic Maya political fortunes.

Tazumal was probably abandoned during the late Postclassic period, around 1300 ce. By the time of the Spanish conquest, Maya-speaking Pogomam lived in the Chalchuapa zone.

In 2004, heavy rains removed a layer of cement added in the 1950s restoration effort, led by Stanley H. Boggs, that enclosed one of the site's pyramids. A side of the pyramid collapsed, but the event revealed new archaeological findings, including burials, ceramics, and architectural elements, and gave further insight into Tazumal's complex history.

See alsoArchaeology .


Boggs, Stanley H. "Archaeological Excavations in El Salvador," in For the Dean, edited by Erik K. Reed and Dale S. King (1950).

Cobos, Rafael. Síntesis de la arqueología de El Salvador (1850–1991). San Salvador, El Salvador: Dirección General de Publicaciones e Impresos, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y Arte, Dirección General del Patrimonio Cultural, 1994.

Fowler, William R.; photos by Federico Trujillo. El Salvador: Antiguas civilizaciones. San Salvador: Banco Agrícola Comercial de El Salvador, 1995.

Lange, Frederick W., ed. Paths to Central American Prehistory. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1996.

Longyear, John M., III. "Archaeological Investigations in El Salvador," in Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University 9, no. 2 (1944).

Longyear, John M., III. "Archaeological Survey of El Salvador," in Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 4, Archaeological Frontiers and External Connections, edited by Gordon Ekholm and Gordon Willey (1966).

Sharer, Robert J., ed. The Prehistory of Chalchuapa, El Salvador, 3 vols. (1978).

                                      Kathryn Sampeck