Carvings on the walls of the pre-Aztec city of El Tajin, Mexico are being destroyed by acid rain

Right on the heals of the awesome announcement of the unearthing of a Olmec-inspired city in Mexico, is concerning news that pollution is damaging these archaeological sites within the country. Specifically, Stefan Lovgren reports in National Geographic News‘ “Ancient Mexican Carvings Being Erased by Acid Rain, Experts Say” that the pre-Aztec city of El Tajin, one of Mexico’s most important archaeological sites, and located on Mexico’s Gulf coast is threatened by acid rain and air pollution. Here’s an image of what has been uncovered so far, click the thumbnail for a larger resolution photo: Aerial Photograph of El Tajin

I know this is a big concern globally. The Great Pyramids of Giza are equally threatened by this unnatural phenomenon as are sites elsewhere. But for El Tajin specifically, this is a big concern because the site is known for its elaborate carvings of pre-Aztec Mesoamerican life, especially the games the people who once inhabited the city enjoyed. It is elaborated in depth in this post:

“El Tajin was built in what is now the state of Veracruz by the Totonac, a civilization that reached its peak from the early 9th to the early 13th century A.D.Much of El Tajin—the city name refers to one of the names for the Totonac god of thunder—remains unexcavated.

The site’s most famous building is an elaborate niche-studded pyramid.

The ceremonial center also has a number of other temple pyramids, palaces, and courts for playing a ritual Mesoamerican ball game sometimes compared to basketball.

No other site has as many depictions of ball players and their equipment as the sculptures and carvings at El Tajin, whose inhabitants were apparently great fans of the game.

It is unclear how exactly the game was played, but it may have served as a training exercise for young warriors. Losers of the game may have been sentenced to death.

Now the carvings depicting the game are beginning to erode at an alarming rate…

John Machado, a pre-Columbian art historian at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, California explains the importance of El Tajin,

“The art of El Tajin is crucial to our understanding of the ancient history of the Gulf coast.It gives evidence of a powerful and complex civilization that had broad interaction with Mesoamerican cultures in both central Mexico and Maya-controlled regions but still cultivated its own unique Veracruz style and iconography.”

Pyramid at El TajinThe article outlines how the erosion is due to contaminants like chlorine, sulfates, and nitrates in the air from power stations and oil refineries. Within 10-20 years the carvings of El Tajin will be no more, unless people figure out a way to preserve the site. To the right is an image of one of the pyramids in El Tajin, you can see the intricately carved details from afar. Click to see a higher resolution. Here’s a bit of background on how acid rain does its thing,

“Acid rain causes erosion on ancient monuments because the sulfuric and nitric acid chemically reacts with the calcium carbonate in the stones to create gypsum, which then flakes off.Acid rain forms when pollutants in the air become trapped inside water droplets in a cloud. The pollution is then carried down to earth with the rain.”

These pollutants, as the article outlines are not natural. They are caused by our insatiable desire for energy and fuel. While the the bigger picture of global warming, and green house gases are public health issues and ecological effects, people should be equally aware that changes in our climate, due to our energy demands, harm every aspect of our cultural heritage… something we will never get back once destroyed.

2 thoughts on “Carvings on the walls of the pre-Aztec city of El Tajin, Mexico are being destroyed by acid rain

  1. Tajin is an awesome place. I was there last year walking around in the burning heat. I went out in the woods on a trail and ran into some indigenous people. They seemed to live out in the jungle there around the ruins. I was wondering if you knew what dialect they speak and if they are ancestors of the Tajin ruins or if they migrated from somewhere else. Nice article.

    1. The indigenous people who live among the archaeological site of El Tajin are thought to be descendants of the Totonacs (last group who inhabited the site), however there is still a great discrepancy as which group really built the site.

      Perhaps, the Totonacs is the most accepted theory, some others still believe that due to the different phases and architectural styles on el tajin, one must infer that the entire complex was designed by different groups of the Gulf coast of Mexico. The Huastecs is also another group linked to the study.

      To answer your question, the indigenous people who you encountered living in site speak “totonac”….many also speak Spanish.

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