All posts by Archaeology World Team

Medieval Christian Artifacts Unearthed in Bulgaria

10th Century with Jesus Christ image, peacock ring seal found in Tudia fortress in Bulgaria’s sliven

Archaeological excavations of the Late Roman, Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian fortress of Tuida in the city of Sliven. Found one of the most notable objects found during 2019 is the cross with an Image of Jesus Christ of the tenth century, during Bulgaria’s First Empire (632/680 – 1018), and a medieval ring seal with a peacock image.

This 10th century bronze cross depicting Jesus Christ has been discovered in the latest digs in the Tuida Fortress in Bulgaria’s Sliven

Tuida, now increasingly gaining popularity as a cultural tourism venue, was originally an Ancient Thracian settlement that grew into a Late Roman, Early Byzantine, and medieval Bulgarian fortress.

The Roman fortress itself was built after the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Constantinople in 325 AD.

Among other things, the Tuida Fortress in the city of Sliven in Southeast Bulgaria is remarkable for having a well-preserved secret passage leading outside the stronghold to a nearby river, which was erected in the 6th century AD.

The 2019 archaeological excavations of the Tuida Fortress were conducted for a period of 20 days in the middle of the fall, and led to the discovery of a total of 103 archaeological artifacts, Nikolay Sirakov, Director of the Dr. Simeon Tabakov Regional Museum of History in Sliven has announced at a news conference.

A total of 103 archaeological artifacts have been found in the 2019 excavations in Tuida in Bulgaria’s Sliven.

The archaeological team of the Sliven Regional Museum of History has excavated a spot in the northern part of the Tuida Fortress, unearthing and researching part of a well-preserved home from the 9th – 10th century, a medieval water pipeline, and a total of nine medieval pits, which were part of the said home, Sirakov reveals, as cited by BTA.

The small 10th century cross with a depiction of Jesus Christ discovered in the latest digs in the Tuida Fortress in Sliven is made of bronze.

The partly restored ruins of the Tuida Fortress overlooking the city of Sliven in Southeast Bulgaria
The 10th-century bronze cross is one of the most intriguing archaeological artifacts found in relatively small-scale digs inside the Tuida Fortress in fall 2019.

In addition to the Christian artifacts, the Bulgarian archaeologists have also found a large number of medieval coins and bone artifacts in the latest digs in the Tuida Fortress in Sliven.

The latter finds are seen as a demonstration that bone processing and crafting were among the medieval crafts that were well-developed in the Tuida Fortress.

In addition to the excavations in Tuida, whose partly restored ruins overlook the modern-day city of Sliven, in 2019, the archaeologists from the city’s Regional Museum of History participated in two other exploration projects.

One has been performing rescue archaeological excavations in the town of Zornitsa, Haskovo District, along the route of the natural gas pipeline connecting Bulgaria and Greece (the “Stara Zagora – Komotini” natural gas pipeline, also known as Interconnector Bulgaria – Greece (IBG).

There the archaeologists found a number of artifacts from various time periods dating back as early as the prehistory, including loom weights, fishing tackles, a mold for ceramic lamps, iron arrow tips, and various types of bronze and silver coins.

The most notable artifact found in the digs near Zornitsa led by archaeologist Veselin Ignatov, however, is said to be the bronze umbo (shield boss) of a parade shield.

More Than 3,500 Copper Coins Repatriated to Mexico

More Than 3,500 Copper Coins Repatriated to Mexico

3,500 tongue-like copper coins were handed over to Mexican authorities in the United States. Mexico daily news Reported.

One of the copper coins being returned to Mexico.
One of the copper coins being returned to Mexico.

The Mexican Consulate Jessica Cascante in Miami said the coins are thought to have been used in what are now the southwestern Mexican states of Guerrero and Michoacán between A.D. 1200 and 1500. 

The United States returned a collection of over 3,500 pre-Hispanic copper coins to Mexican authorities in a ceremony in Miami on Monday.

A U.S. collector acquired them in Texas at a numismatic fair in the 1960s, she said, but at that time neither Mexico nor the United States was part of a UNESCO convention that guarantees the return of such heritage artifacts to their countries of origin.

Cascante said the fragile, tongue-shaped coins, which are currently covered in verdigris, will be sent to Mexico in January.

Agents of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) who headed the operation to recover the coins attended the presentation ceremony along with the Consul General of Mexico in Miami, Jonathan Chait.

The collection consists of over 3,500 coins.

Mexican authorities notified the FBI of the existence of the coins in 2013 when they were taken to Spain for an auction.

Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) then began authenticating the coins in order to request their return.

As both countries were by then signatories to the UNESCO convention (Mexico in 1972 and the United States in 1983), the return process was completed six years later.

Cascante did not divulge the name of the collector who obtained the coins in the 1960s, but said that he did so before it constituted a crime and turned them involuntarily.

“Now we’re just waiting for the physical material to arrive [in Mexico],” she said, adding that they are currently being packaged with the support of specialists from history museums in Florida.

Homo erectus’ last known appearance dates to roughly 117,000 years ago

Homo erectus’ last known appearance dates to roughly 117,000 years ago

Homo erectus’ last known appearance dates to roughly 117,000 years ago
A new study finds that the last known appearance of Homo erectus, at Java’s Ngandong site, dates to between 117,000 and 108,000 years ago. A H. Erectus skullcap previously found at the site is shown.

Two million years ago the Homo erectus had evolved and became the first human species to be entirely upright. New evidence suggests it remained there on the Indonesian island of Java just over 100,000 years ago-long after it had disappeared elsewhere.

It means when our own species started living on Earth, it was still around. In the 1930s, 12 Homo erectus skull caps and two lower leg bones were found in a bone bed 20m above the Solo River at Ngandong in central Java.

In subsequent decades, researchers have attempted to date the fossils. But this proved difficult because the surrounding geology is complex and details of the original excavations became confused. In the 1990s, one team came up with unexpectedly young ages of between 53,000 and 27,000 years ago. This raised the distinct possibility that modern humans overlapped with Homo erectus on the Indonesian island.

Prof Russell Ciochon with replicas of the Homo erectus skull caps found at Ngandong

Now, researchers led by Prof Russell Ciochon of the University of Iowa in Iowa City opened up new excavations on the terraces beside the Solo River, reanalyzing the site and its surroundings.

They have provided what they describe as a definitive age for the bone bed of between 117,000 and 108,000 years old. This represents the most recent known record of Homo erectus anywhere in the world.

“I don’t know what you could date at the site to give you more precise dates than what we’ve been able to produce,” Prof Ciochon told LIVE SCIENCE.

Prof Chris Stringer, research leader on human evolution at London’s Natural History Museum, who was not involved with the work, commented: “This is a very comprehensive study of the depositional context of the famous Ngandong Homo erectus partial skulls and shin bones, and the authors build a strong case that these individuals died and were washed into the deposits of the Solo River about 112,000 years ago.

“This age is very young for such primitive-looking Homo erectus fossils, and establishes that the species persisted on Java for well over one million years.”

Researchers think the collection of remains represent a mass death event, possibly the result of a lahar upriver. A lahar – which comes from a Javanese word – is the slurry that can flow down the slope of a volcano when heavy rainfall occurs during or after a volcanic eruption. These violent events will sweep away anything in their path.

Previously, team-member Frank Huffman, from the University of Texas at Austin, had tracked down the descendants of the Dutch researchers who excavated the Homo erectus remains back in the 1930s.

The excavation sites lie along the Solo River in central Java

The relatives were able to provide him with photographs of the original dig, maps, and notebooks. Huffman was able to resolve much of the uncertainty that had hampered previous attempts to understand the site.

“He was able to tell us exactly where to dig,” Prof Ciochon said of the University of Texas researcher. Ciochon and his colleagues excavated part of an untouched reserve area left alone by the Dutch team in the 1930s. Informed by records of the original excavations, the team was able to identify the gravelly deposit – or bone bed – from which the Homo erectus fossils had come, and date it.

On other islands in South-East Asia, Homo erectus appears to have evolved into smaller forms, such as Homo floresiensis – the “Hobbit” – on Flores, and Homo luzonensis in the Philippines. This probably occurred because there were limited food resources on these islands. But on Java, there appears to have been enough food for Erectus to maintain its original body size.

The specimens at Ngandong appear to be between 5ft and 6ft in height – comparable to examples from Africa and elsewhere in Eurasia. The findings further underline the shift in thinking this field of study has undergone over the decades. We used to think of human evolution as a progression, with a straight line leading from apes to us. This is embodied in the so-called March of Progress illustration where a stooping chimp-like creature gradually morphs into Homo sapiens, apparently the apex of evolution.

Excavations at Ngandong in 2010

These days, we know things were far messier. The latest study highlights a mind-boggling truth: that many of the species we thought of as transitional stages in this onward march overlapped with each other, in some cases for hundreds of thousands of years.

But why did Homo erectus survive so late on Java? In Africa, the species was probably gone by 500,000 years ago; in China, it vanished some 400,000 years ago. Russell Ciochon thinks that it was probably outcompeted by other human species elsewhere, but Java’s location allowed it to thrive in isolation. However, the results show the fossils came from a period when environmental conditions on Java were changing. What was once open woodlands were transforming into the rainforest. Prof Ciochon thinks this could mark the exact point of extinction of Homo erectus on the island.

No Homo erectus is found after this time, he explained, and there’s a gap with no human activity at all until Homo sapiens turns up on Java around 39,000 years ago. Prof Ciochon believes H. Erectus was too dependent on the open savannah and too inflexible to adapt to life in a rainforest. “Homo sapiens is the only hominin species that live in a tropical forest,” he explained. “I think it’s mainly because of the cultural attributes of Homo sapiens – the ability to make all these specialized tools.”

“Once this rainforest flora and fauna spread across Java, that’s the end of erectus.”

But Chris Stringer sounded a note of caution.

“The authors claim that this is, therefore, the last known occurrence of the species and that this indicates there was no overlap of the species with Homo sapiens in Java, as H. sapiens arrived much later,” he said.

“I’m not convinced about that as other supposedly late Homo erectus material from Javanese sites like Ngawi and Sambungmacan remain to be properly dated, and they may be younger still. Alternatively, they may correlate with the ages of the Ngandong fossils, but that should be the next stage of an investigation.”

A Man Renovating His Home Discovered A Tunnel… To A Massive Underground City

A Man Renovating His Home Discovered A Tunnel… To A Massive Underground City

In 1963, a man in the Nevşehir Province of Turkey knocked down a wall of his home. Behind it, he discovered a mysterious room and soon discovered an intricate tunnel system with additional cave-like rooms. What he had discovered was the ancient Derinkuyu underground city in Turkey.

The underground city was home to approximately 20,000 residents.

The elaborate subterranean network included discrete entrances, ventilation shafts, wells, and connecting passageways. It was one of the dozens of underground cities carved from the rock in Cappadocia thousands of years ago. It remained hidden for centuries.

Located almost exactly in the center of Turkey in the region best known as “Cappadocia,” this particular complex is located in the modern town of Derinkuyu.

Researchers think that the underground corridors may go much deeper, nevertheless, the exact size of them remains unknown.

That the man found this complex while digging out his house was surprising, as was its size, but Cappadocia was already famous for its underground dwellings. There are over two hundred known underground “cities” of various sizes in the region (most of them would more properly be called “villages” or “hamlets”).

At least forty of them have three or more levels, with Kaymakli and Derinkuyu having eight and eighteen (!), respectively. Most archaeologists believe that the caves were begun by the Phrygian people (one of the many “sea peoples” that invaded the Aegean and Turkish area from the west, and who are mentioned in ancient texts) in about the 7th or 8th centuries B.C.

Some believe the caves are older, and date from the Hittite period some five hundred years before that. Regardless of who dug it, the cave system at Derinkuyu especially was not built by “stupid troglodytes”–these were exceedingly smart troglodytes.

Probably the last residents of the city were the early Christians, but they weren’t the actual builders.
Then the city was forgotten for more than 1,000 years.

As one can imagine, there are many good reasons for building a city underground. First and foremost was likely defense, but of course, shelter from the weather was an important factor too. No wind, no rain or snow, protection from the blazing Mediterranean sun.

Another factor was access to water. Rivers and lakes run dry and enemies might control water sources in an effort to subdue your people, but if you are sitting directly on top of an aquifer, you’ve got all the water you’ll ever need.

The cleverness of the people at Derinkuyu is illustrated by the fact that one of the wells there (over two hundred feet down) was controlled by those on the deepest levels. Access to the wells could be closed tight with wood and stone so those above could not attempt to poison the water below.

There were stone-wheel doors at the entrances to the tunnels to protect residents from invaders.
Even if the enemy had gotten inside, he would have never gotten back to the surface without knowledge of the secret passages and labyrinth plan.

The stone in Cappadocia is soft volcanic rock left eons ago. One might call it sandstone, from its looks, but it is not. Though relatively easy to dig through (compared to granite, for example), it was still no small undertaking for the people of Cappadocia to dig out.

This also means that the stone can be carved easily. Later troglodytic complexes include elaborate early Christian churches, with arches embedded in the ceiling.

Security was built in. Entrances were in high or in very well-hidden places. The tunnels and stairways are just wide enough for one adult to make their way through – enemy warriors could only fight one on one in the corridors.

Oil lamps lit the halls, stairways, and dwellings, and could be extinguished by retreating warriors and families to confuse invaders. Dead-ends known only to those living in the complex would also add to any confusion.

Large circular stones could be rolled into tunnels, blocking further advance. During the original Turkish invasions in the 10th century, and into the Ottoman era, these caves were used as refuge and defense.

Some of the smaller troglodyte dwellings (and that’s what they’re called) are still inhabited. Many of the others were lived in until early in the 20th century.

The large complex at Kaymakli was last used as a refuge by Anatolian Greeks fearing the massacres that were taking place in the war between Turkey and Greece in the early 1920s.

Today, many of these underground cities and towns are open to the public and are Turkish national treasures.

Tourists are allowed to visit only a small part of the city where the maze is fenced so that nobody gets lost.

The large complexes at Kaymakli and Derinkuyu offer guided tours through the approximately ten percent of the cave systems that are open to the public.

Surprise: Ancient Inuit Mummy Scans Reveal Possible Heart Disease

Surprise: Ancient Inuit Mummy Scans Reveal Possible Heart Disease

While omega-3 diets are rich in fish, The 500-year-old Inuit mummies discovered in Greenland tell scientists of their suffering from clogged arteries that they are intended to protect from plaque build-up in the arteries.

Atherosclerosis is a condition in which the walls of arteries become blocked with fat and calcium and it is known this condition was suffered at least 6,000 years ago but none of the humans remains studied thus far was known to eat a marine-based diet. Now, however, researchers have studied four Inuit mummies and found evidence of arterial clogging.

Atherosclerosis is the build-up of plaques of fat, cholesterol, and calcium in one’s arteries and the disease is a leading cause of death in modern wealthy countries, thought to be caused by poor dietary control.

However, a new paper published in the journal  JAMA Network Open challenges this commonly held notion after scientists studied the remains of four 16th-century Inuit hunters found in Greenland who also suffered from clogged-up arteries, despite their diets being rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Landscape from Greenland with Inuit woman looking at the sea by Emanuel Petersen.

While the condition is often seen as resulting from modern lifestyles and diets, evidence of atherosclerosis has been found in human remains dating back as far as around 4,000 BC, but none of those tested bodies had eaten a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Four incredibly well-preserved 16th-century Inuit mummies who ate omega 3-rich diets were tested with a view to seeing if the fatty acid improved arterial health, and the results suggest diets rich in omega-3 may not assure resistance to arterial plaque build-up, leading to the researchers considering that other factors might be at play.

According to a report in The Daily Mail, a team of scientists led by cardiologist L. Samuel Wann of Ascension Healthcare in Milwaukee studied the Inuit mummies taken from the collections of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Cambridge. Originally discovered on the island of Uunartaq, off the coast of Greenland in 1929 and dated to the 1500s, the mummies include two men and two women between the ages of 18–30.

Living in stone huts supported with whale bones and seal skins, the kayak hunters would have used wooden spears, bows, and arrows to kill fish, marine mammals, birds, and caribou, and with their greatly marine-based diets, their veins would have surged with omega-3 fatty acids.

But CT scans of the mummies’ insides were analyzed by Dr. Wann and his team of four cardiologists and two radiologists which showed ‘calcified atheroma’ which is an accumulation of fatty plaque material in the arteries, similar to modern humans with atherosclerosis.

Computed Tomography Images Showing Calcified Atherosclerotic Plaques. Arrows indicate calcified atherosclerotic plaques.

The condition, and the diseases it can cause, is the single biggest cause of death in the developed world and is responsible for one in three fatalities.

Over time, blood vessels harden and narrow, which restricts the flow of blood around the body, and when these plaque deposits rupture they form a blood clot that can further block the flow of oxygenated blood which can result in a stroke or heart attack.

According to the Heart Research Institute atherosclerosis often begins in childhood and worsens with age damaging the endothelium, a thin layer that keeps the inside of our arteries smooth.

Once damaged, ‘bad’ cholesterol accumulates in the artery wall the body sends immune cells to clean up this cholesterol, which can then get stuck in the damaged site and this is what builds up over time leading to blockages.

This new study presents evidence for the “presence of calcified plaques in the mummified remains of 3 young Inuit individuals living 500 years ago,” the researchers wrote in their paper, and that omega 3 rich diets might not guarantee against plaque buildup as currently believed.

However, according to Discover Magazine, the researchers urge caution for other factors that might be at play, like environmental smoke produced by the use of indoor fires.

1,600-Year-Old Bone Pendants Discovered in Turkey

1,600-Year-Old Bone Pendants Discovered in Turkey

The 1600 years old bones-shaped, human and animal-shaped pendants have been unearthed by an archeological dig at Assos, one of the most important port cities of antiquity.

In an interview with the state-run Anadolu Agency, Nurettin Arslan, Professor in the Department of Archeology, and Head of Excavations, at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, (ÇOMÜ) said that these were pendants dated from the 4th century B.C.

The ancient city is in Behramkale Village of Çanakkale Province’s Ayvacık District.

“There are two objects used as jewelry among those produced in the bone workshop to the west of the agora, one shaped like an animal and the other as a human. These must be part of jewelry which people used as necklaces in the ancient period,” Arslan said.

The professor also said that during the excavations, coins from the Byzantine Area to the Ottoman period were revealed.

“The largest group of coins uncovered in Assos are Byzantine (Eastern Roman) coins because the layers we are working on are mainly from the Byzantine period. These works show us that the Byzantine ruins in Assos archaeological site are a well-preserved center,” the professor said.

The findings show that there was an intense settlement in Assos between the fifth and seventh centuries. The settlement gradually decreased until the 12th century and eventually became a “small fortress” in the acropolis, Arslan said.

“Since there is no settlement, later on, we can say that the data related to urban planning, lifestyle functions of houses and daily life in the early Byzantine period are very valuable,” he said.

The professor underlined that one of the most archaic discoveries of the excavation works was stone axes made of granites.

“This stone axe was found on the surface in the necropolis area, but similar discoveries were made by Turkish archaeologists in the American excavations and during the 1990s,” he said.

“We have four axes dating back to the Chalcolithic period, to 5000 B.C. These axes are important such as they are traces showing that the settlement of Assos dates back to 5000 B.C.,” he added.

Founded on the summit and slopes of a volcanic hill at the southern end of the region, called “Troas” in ancient times, across the island of Lesbos in Greece, the city has been home to many societies for centuries.

One of its famous residents was Aristotle who together with the philosopher Xenocrates established a philosophical school at Assos.

It was the first ancient city where U.S. archaeologists excavated in the 1800s. It was excavated in 1981 after a long break.

The site, located 17 kilometers south of Ayvacık district, was accepted in the UNESCO Tentative List of World Heritage on April 15, 2017.

While 38 years of excavations have been carried out by Turkish scientists, new data for archaeology history have been revealed, and new scientists are also raised here.

Hoard of 1,200-year-old ‘Arabian Nights’ gold coins in an ancient ‘piggy bank’ discovered in Israel on the fourth day of Hanukkah

Hoard of 1,200-year-old ‘Arabian Nights’ gold coins in an ancient ‘piggy bank’ discovered in Israel on the fourth day of Hanukkah

In the ancient “piggy bank” Israel archeologists have found a small treasure trove of gold coins, which is believed to be the personal savings of a potter that worked in a kiln around 1200 years ago.

They date from the period when the region was ruled by the mighty Abbasid Caliphate and was unearthed at a medieval industrial site. The find was made during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah when Jews exchange gifts and celebrate.

In Yavne in central Israel archeologists discovered gold coins. A team led by Liat Nadav-Ziv and Dr. Elie Haddad were excavating an area that will eventually be the location of a new residential neighborhood.

On behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, they conducted the investigation. A significant number of items were discovered by the team, but nothing unusual until they found a small jug

Nadav-Ziv told The Jerusalem Post that she was “cataloging a large number of artifacts found during the excavations when all of a sudden I heard shouts of joy”.

They had come from veteran archaeologist Marc Molkondov, and he directed them to a spot in the dig. He had unearthed a small cracked jug full of a number of coins. This was clearly an important find.

Archaeologists Liat Nadav-Ziv and Marc Molkondov, finder of the gold coins, with the 8 th century Chanukah gelt.

Dr. Robert Kool, a coin expert from the Israel Antiquities Authority examined the coins. There were all from the 7th-9th centuries AD and date to the early Abbasid period. The Abbasid Caliphate is regarded as an Islamic golden age when the arts, industry, and science flourished.

One of the most important coins found was a gold dinar from the reign of Caliph Harun A-Rashid (786-809 AD). He ruled the Abbasid Caliphate at the zenith of its power and wealth and is a “key figure in the classic collection of stories known as the Arabian Nights also known as One Thousand and One Nights” according to The Jerusalem Post.

In the jug were coins not normally found in Israel. Dr. Kool is quoted by the Jewish Press as saying that there “are gold dinars issued by the Aghlabid dynasty that ruled in North Africa, in the region of modern Tunisia”. This dynasty was largely autonomous but was ultimately under the control of the Abbasids, whose capital was in Baghdad.

The coins were discovered during the major Jewish holiday Chanukah, otherwise known as Hanukkah. During this eight-day festival gifts of coins are given, sometimes chocolate gold coins, are exchanged. Kool is quoted by The Times of Israel as saying that “without a doubt, this is a wonderful Chanukah present for us”.

The hoard of gold coins discovered in Yavne.

The excavation at Yavne is not far from a Tel or mound, and a large number of kilns were discovered. The kilns were used in the manufacture of pottery from the late Byzantine to the Early Abbasid period (600 to 900 AD). It appears that the site was once an industrial center and it produced pots, jars, and bowls.

The jug with the treasure trove was unearthed near one of the entrances of the kiln. The Jerusalem Post reports that “it might have been the potter’s ‘piggy-bank’ where he had kept his personal savings”. It is possible that the potter hid the coins at some point and was unable to recover them.

The Yavne site has a long history. Evidence was found that the area was the location of wine production, during the Achaemenid Persian period (5th and 4th centuries BC).

The wine was produced there on a significant scale. Dr. Elie Haddad observed that “the size and number of vats found at the site indicated that wine was produced on a commercial scale, well beyond the local needs of Yavne’s ancient population” reports The Jerusalem Post. It appears that the region exported wine to other areas.

Winepresses found at the same location as the gold coins, dated to the Persian period.

The jug filled with coins is an important find in itself. The discovery helps us to understand more about an important industrial center in the Middle Ages and the region’s role in the international trade network that flourished under the Abbasids. Further excavations at the site are expected to reveal more about Yavneh’s ancient and medieval past.

This is the World’s largest pyramid, and it’s hidden inside a mountain

This is the World’s largest pyramid, and it’s hidden inside a mountain

Although Giza’s Great Pyramid in Egypt is by far the world’s most widely debated pyramid, it isn’t the biggest by a long shot. That title goes to the Great Pyramid of Cholula – an ancient Aztec temple in Puebla, Mexico with a base four times larger than Giza’s, and nearly twice the volume.

Why is the world’s biggest pyramid so often overlooked? It could be because that gigantic structure is actually hidden beneath layers of dirt, making it look more like a natural mountain than a place of worship.

In fact, it looks so much like a mountain, that famed Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés completely missed it, and unwittingly built a church right on top of it, as you can see in the image below.

To understand how awesome the Great Pyramid of Cholula is, we must jump back to well before Cortés and his army planted a symbol of Christianity on its peak.

Known as Tlachihualtepetl (meaning “man-made mountain”), the origins of the pyramid are a little sketchy, though the general consensus is that it was built in around 300 BC by many different communities to honour the ancient god Quetzalcoatl.

The pyramid was built to appease the “feathered serpent” god

As Zaria Gorvett reports for the BBC, the pyramid was likely constructed with adobe – a type of brick made of out of baked mud – and features six layers built on top of each over many generations. Each time a layer was completed, construction was picked back up by a new group of workers.

This incremental growth is what allowed the Great Pyramid of Cholula to get so big. With a base of 450 by 450 metres (1,480 by 1,480 feet), it’s four times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

In fact, at roughly 66 metres (217 feet) tall, the pyramid’s total volume is about 4.45 million cubic metres (157 million cubic feet), while the Great Pyramid of Giza’s volume is just 2.5 million cubic metres (88.2 million cubic feet).

The Great Pyramid of Giza is taller, though, at 146 metres (481 feet) high. The ancient Aztecs most likely used the Great Pyramid of Cholula as a place of worship for around 1,000 years before moving to a new, smaller location nearby.

Before it was replaced by newer structures, it was painstakingly decorated in red, black, and yellow insects. But without maintenance, the mud bricks were left to do what mud does in humid climates – provide nutrients to all kinds of tropical greenery.

“It was abandoned sometime in the 7th or 8th Century CE,” archaeologist David Carballo from Boston University told Gorvett at the BBC. “The Choluteca had a newer pyramid-temple located nearby, which the Spaniards destroyed.”

When Cortés and his men arrived in Cholula in October 1519, some 1,800 years after the pyramid was constructed, they massacred around  3,000 people in a single hour – 10 per cent of entire city’s population – and levelled many of their religious structures.

But they never touched the pyramid, because they never found it.  In 1594, after settling in the city and claiming it for their own, they built a church – La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies Church), on top of the hidden pyramid mountain. 

It’s unclear if the Aztecs knew the mud bricks would encourage things to grow all over it and eventually bury the entire structure, but the fact that it looks more like a hill than a pyramid is probably the only reason it still survives today.

And just as well, because according to the BBC, not only is it the world’s largest pyramid, it retains the title of the largest monument ever constructed anywhere on Earth, by any civilisation, to this day.

The pyramid wasn’t discovered until the early 1900s when locals started to build a psychiatric ward nearby. By the 1930s, archaeologists started to uncover it, creating a series of tunnels stretching 8 kilometres (5 miles) in length to give them access.

This view of the pyramid was taken in the early 20th century

Now, over 2,300 years after its initial construction, the site has become a tourist destination.

Hopefully, as our ability to study important sites using non-invasive tools continues to improve, archaeologists will gain a better understanding of how the structure was built, by whom, and how it came to look so much like a mountain.