When it comes to archaeological sites in Latin America, the most well-known ones that immediately come to mind are Chichen Itza in Mexico and Machu Picchu in Peru. However, just as there is a vast amount of biodiversity in the living environments of Latin America, there are numerous archaeological sites from different time periods. The following four sites are just a snapshot of the many cultural and historical legacies left behind:
El Mirador, Guatemala
El Mirador (“The Viewpoint” in Spanish) is located in the department of Petén in Guatemala. It was once a Mayan city that flourished from the 6th to the 1st centuries BCE. El Mirador was originally rediscovered in 1926, however, due to its remote location in the jungles, examination of the site officially began during the 60s and 70s. One of its pyramids, La Danta, is considered one of the largest pyramids in the world in terms of volume. Like other nearby cities, El Mirador was abandoned by around 150 CE. Current threats to El Mirador include deforestation and looting.
Joya Del Ceren, El Salvador
Known as “the Pompeii of the Americas,” what distinguishes Joya de Ceren from other Mayan sites is that it was once a farming village, which are rarely preserved in contrast to temples and pyramids. Joya de Ceren was occupied as early as 1200 BCE. It had been previously evacuated and repopulated at various times in its history due to the eruption of the Ilopango volcano. It was finally buried under layers of ash from the eruption of the Laguna Caldera volcano around 600 CE. While the villagers were able to flee on time, the village was remarkably preserved and provide information on the life of non-elite people in that time period. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.
Cuidad Perdida, Colombia
Ciudad Perdida means “Lost City” in Spanish. It was an ancient city located in Sierra Nevada, Colombia. Believed to have been founded 650 years before Machu Picchu, it was “found again” by looters coming across stone steps rising up the mountain, thereby leading to the site. It is also known as Teyuna to the Indigenous peoples in the area. The city was built by the Tairona people and had between 1,000 – 3,000 inhabitants and was divided into 250 terraces carved into the mountainside and connected together through a network of stairs and pathways. Ciudad Perdida was affected and threatened at one point during the Colombian conflict with tourist hikes only restarting in 2005.
Chan Chan, Peru
Chan Chan was built by the Chimú civilization, which arose from the remains of the Moche civilization. It is the largest Pre-Colombian archaeological site in South America and is made entirely of adobe brick. Chan Chan was built in 850 AD and lasted until the fall of the Inca Empire in 1470 AD. At one point, 30,000 people lived in the city. Despite its location in the desert, Chan Chan was maintained due to a network of canals and irrigations built into it. However, today the site is threatened by erosion and the effects of El Niño.