At the time of European contact, the Purépecha Empire – sometimes called the Tarascan Empire – controlled much of western Mexico with a mutually fortified frontier shared with their rivals, the Aztecs to the east.
The settlement may be as large as 5 square kilometers and dates to A.D. 1000-1520. Initial results suggest the peak occupation of the newly discovered urban center occurred just prior to the formation of the Purépecha Empire, further indicating that results from the study may yield new clues regarding the empire’s formation.
“Much of this settlement is similar to a modern-day suburb with hundreds of small house mounds where ordinary families lived and carried out activities. By today’s standards this urban center seems small but by documenting these ruins, my team and I are helping anthropologists identify different aspects of ancient cities,” said Christopher Fisher, associate professor in CSU’s Department of Anthropology. “The Lake Pátzcuaro Basin was the geopolitical core of the empire with a dense population, centralized settlement systems, engineered environment and a socially stratified society.”
The discovery was made in the summer of 2009. Fisher and his team were able to map more than 1,300 architectural features from 1 square-kilometer of the settlement. Items mapped included house mounds, room blocks, buildings, small temples, plazas, agricultural features and a pyramid. The team has only documented about one-fifth of the entire site and will be returning this summer for more mapping and research.