Article: « Earthen architecture in the Mesoamerican classic period: A micromorphological approach to its manufacture process » (2022)

Mateu M., Fernández H., Daneels A., Cabadas H., Piña S. (2022), Earthen architecture in the Mesoamerican classic period: A micromorphological approach to its manufacture process, Journal of Archaeological Science, 137, article n. 105525.


Earthen construction systems are generally inferred from stratigraphic evidence, without analytical follow-up, leading to poor or erroneous interpretations. Micromorphological analysis has shown potential to differentiate manufacturing techniques, and diagnostic features have been established for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cases. This paper evaluates the method on construction samples from Mesoamerica, where earthen architecture emerged independently from the Old World and where the marked seasonal rainfall pattern characteristic of the tropics, and the human settlement on soils and sediments originating from relatively recent volcanic activity, create conditions that mostly differ from previously analyzed cases. In this first comparative analysis, we use 16 samples of the most representative construction elements in Mesoamerica: mud-brick, cob walls and facings from monumental architecture, obtained from seven major sites, dating to the first millennium AD, located both in coastal lowlands and in semi-arid to arid plateaus.

All elements analyzed are made of mixes in plastic state, as there is no evidence of rammed earth or poured earth techniques in Mesoamerica. Therefore, the features related to the amount of water added are similar, with differences appearing in the selection and combination of raw materials, and the manufacturing processes of kneading, adding mineral and organic aggregates, and applying. The use of materials of volcanic origin gives a particular appearance to all samples. The features defined in previous research were useful for the sample analysis, showing that manufacturing process was very similar and that the method can be applied in Mesoamerica, to assist in the correct technological identification of construction systems.

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