Historical Background

In 2010, preliminary excavations and archival research made possible by a National Geographic Waitt Grant have uncovered evidence of the continuous occupation of the site of San Pedro de Aguacatepeque from at least the Late Classic Period (900AD) until the later Colonial period (approximately 1800 AD). The site appears located on an important trade route that connected the Pacific Coast of Guatemala to the highlands. This trade route appears to have been established long before Spanish colonization in the region began in 1524 AD, and continued to be used well into the Colonial period. SPA is located within a small micro-climate that allowed the community to grow important crops such as cacao (for chocolate), sugarcane, tobacco and cotton despite its location in the piedmont region of the highlands, at an altitude of over 1000meters above sea level. We believe that the site’s high agricultural potential for important and much demanded trade goods, as well as its location on an established trade route increased the importance of the site in the local and regional economy, and paved the way for its intensive involvement in market based trade prior to and after colonization. One illuminating example of the commercial activity at SPA is found in a 1688 document by Francisco de Zuaza that describes the inhabitants of Aguacatepeque as farmers and laborers growing corn, cacao, and sugar cane, the last of which was processed into unrefined sugar loafs known as “rapaduras” (see also:Panela) made explicitly for sale at the various local, district and regional markets that dotted the landscape.


A colonial document dating to 1586 mentions the destruction of SPA in a large eruption of the Volcan de Fuego in 1582. While the population was able to escape, the eruption and its falling debris destroyed the town. However, it appears to have been rapidly rebuilt and reoccupied in the same location as it was encountered in 1586 by a Spanish traveler. We are particularly excited about this documentary mention, as excavations in 2010 have revealed the presence of a dark volcanic sand/ash stratum overlaying colonial deposits at SPA. In addition, there are assuredly colonial period artifacts (such as lead-glazed ceramics and tin-glazed majolica ceramics ) found above this stratum indicating the reoccupation of the site after this volcanic event. Research is ongoing; the 2011 season’s excavations will attempt to recover carbon samples from this stratum in order to carry out Carbon-14 dating analyses these samples, with the hopes of confirming the date when this stratum was deposited (see the archaeology section of the site for more info on the stratigraphy at the site).


Rudiger Escobar Wolf, a PhD candidate in Geology at Michigan Tech University has become an important contributor to the project and has provided much needed insight into the volcanic processes that have impacted SPA in the past, and their potential effects on the community.


Please see the Volcanology section of the site for further information and details of Rudiger’s work!

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