Almost everyone who travels into Mexico will become aware of the ancient cultures that once populated this part of the world and the cities they built. Over the last decade of traveling in Mexico we have visited several of these ancient sites, and walked on stones that were laid so many centuries ago.
The indigenous people of Mexico domesticated of corn about 9000 years ago, and went on to build large, complex societies.
Much of this Mesoamerica legacy stands in the remains of pyramids scattered through the country and down into Central America. According to one source, there are 4000 separate sites of ancient ruins, most of which have not been uncovered. These cities, each flourished for many centuries, and for various reasons, expired, and were abandoned. The jungle then grew back around them and over them, and they mostly disappeared.
We stopped at the RV Park in Cholula and walked across the city to the site of The Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Tlachihualtepetl. It is the largest archaeological site of a pyramid (temple) in the Americas. The pyramid stands 55 metres (180 ft) above the surrounding plain and in its final form it measured 400 by 400 metres (1,300 by 1,300 ft).
We got a very good guide, Proferio, a retired biology teacher, who spoke excellent, if deliberate English. He first took us through the museum and explained the models, and then on a hike around the site. When the Spanish arrived, they built a church on the top of the pyramid.
A couple of days later we arrived at an rv park we knew near Palenque.
The Palenque ruins date back to 100 BC to its fall around 800 AD. After its decline it was absorbed into the jungle, but has been excavated and restored and is now a famous archaeological site attracting thousands of visitors.
By 2005, the discovered area covered up to 2.5 km² (1 sq mi), but it is estimated that less than 10% of the total area of the city is explored, leaving more than a thousand structures still covered.
As we approached the coast we had an opportunity to stop along the highway near several more sites. We were at a Pemex (gas station) when the attendant spoke some English. We were considering staying there for the night, and the Pemex guy, Abram mentioned that he was soon coming off shift and could take us to visit the nearby ruins a of Kohunlich. We all, including Pippin, squeezed into Don & Pat’s van and spent a lovely afternoon hiking around another remnant of ancient life.
The site was settled by 200 BC, but most of the structures were built in the Early Classic period from about 250 to 600 AD.
Abram showed us a tree that had peeling bark, which the locals call a “tourist tree”. Yes, it is because many of the pink people from the north come down for their holidays and get sunburned.
It is somewhat mind-bending to see these old sites and hear about these ancient history. We have learned that little is clearly known about these ancient cultures. Their populations grew and subsided several times. They were scientifically advanced in many areas, and very spiritual, building great temples wherever they settled. For this they needed to cut down vast forests of trees to burn limestone to make cement which may have caused a breakdown in their water and food supply.
There are few remaining traces of their written history, as when the Spanish arrived in the 1500’s, they destroyed all that they found. Still, their descendants have survived and largely adapted and integrated to modern life. True indigenous people make up a very small proportion of Mexican population. The vast majority is comprised of Mestizoes -- people of mixed heritage. A nice blend to what there is from the old and the new, I think.