Tonina Pyramid, Largest Pyramid in Mexico

Researchers confirm that recently discovered Tonina Pyramid is Largest Pyramid in Mexico

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It was just over five years ago that researchers in Mexico discovered an enormous pyramid of the Maya civilization in Toniná,  Chiapas. The fact that the pyramid had remained concealed under what was believed to be a natural hill for around 1,700 years is truly incredible, particularly considering that it has been confirmed as the largest pyramid in Mexico and is even taller than Teotihuacan’s enormous Pyramid of the Sun.

The pyramid, which measures 75 meters (246 feet) in height, was first excavated by archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in 2010.

La Jornada reports that it was found during explorations of the acropolis of Toniná in what is now the Mexican state of Chiapas. The archaeological site of Toniná sits on a platform covering 6 hectares and consists of seven terraces on the north side of the platform which rise above a plaza. Social, political, economic, and religious structures were constructed on the terraces, including housing, administrative units, and groups of temple-pyramids. There is also a ballgame court at the site, and over 100 carved monuments dating from the 6 th to the 9 th centuries AD.

Toniná has been described as an aggressive state that used warfare to develop a powerful kingdom that rivalled Palenque. Toniná eventually became the dominant city in the west of the Maya region.

The Acropolis of Toniná, occupying seven terraces upon a hillside.

The Acropolis of Toniná, occupying seven terraces upon a hillside. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Emiliano Gallaga, director of the archaeological zone, told La Jornada that the pyramid was covered in vegetation and was initially believed to be a natural hill. However, exploration of the site soon revealed that the structure was almost entirely man-made, constructed by the ancient Maya inhabitants of Toniná.

Three-dimensional scanning of the pyramid revealed that it was “one of the largest constructions in Mesoamerica, comparable in size only to great Mayan cities like Tikal and El Mirador in Guatemala,” said Gallaga. “Toniná is bigger than we suspected. The pyramids are connected by roads located on top of the surrounding elevations.”

The scale of the pyramid at Tonina is comparable in size only to the great Maya cities of Guatemala, such as Tikal. Pictured here, the central acropolis at Tikal.

The scale of the pyramid at Tonina is comparable in size only to the great Maya cities of Guatemala, such as Tikal. Pictured here, the central acropolis at Tikal. Image Source: Simon Danhauer / Fotolia

Gallaga added that, after evaluating all the information gathered from exploratory studies, it can be confirmed that the pyramid exceeds the height of the Pyramid of the Sun at  Teotihuacan, which previously held the position as the tallest pyramid in Mexico at 65 meters (213 feet) in height.

Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan

Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan ( Wikimedia Commons )

Featured image: Overview of the northern part of the acropolis of Tonina, Chiapas Photo DMC INAH / H. Montaño

By April Holloway


angieblackmon's picture

So did each of these different cities fight against each other, or where they united as a whole? Who were they being aggressive against?


love, light and blessings


Tsurugi's picture

I think it was the Aztec empire they were fighting....?

Tonina was a city of the Mesoamerican Classic which existed long before the Aztec. It was contemporary with the the Aztec's Central Mexican forebears, the Teotihuacanos of Teotihuacan. The Aztec were a Post-Classic empire.

After the fall of Teotihuacan and the Classic Maya City States, Mesoamerica went into a brief Dark Age before the rise of the Toltecs in the Valley of Mexico and the founding of Maya City States in the Northern Lowlands of Yucatan.

Maya Cities fought against each other. Tonina's biggest rival city was Palenque.

Impresive size !

Such uncivilized people! Pagans! Silly sun worshippers!
They should be grateful the gringos brought them jeezus...and took their gold.....and killed their people..... and installed a puppet government. Only now is the depth of their primitive-ness is coming to light!

Of course you ignore the fact that shortly after landing his ships, Cortez was attacked by the Chontal Maya who were trying to curry favor with Montezuma. He also left most of his army to protect Veracruz when he went to meet Montezuma (who didn't want to meet him) but Montezuma used that as an opportunity to attack that army in Veracruz. Had that not happened, I doubt Cortez would have killed him. Blood thirsty savages. It's amazing how much of the facts are being white-washed (excuse the pun) surrounding these events in order to portray the Spanish as pure evil and the Aztecs as helpless victims who only wanted peace and love.
The Aztecs made the mistake of underestimating the Spanish by letting their lust for killing and war get the better of them.

Also, everyone always talks about how the innocent Native Americans were wiped out by disease from those evil europeans, but the fact is Europe also got hammered by disease brought back from North America. Syphilis, Polio, Hepatitis, and Encephalitis are a few of the noteworthy ones. The Syphilis epidemic that hit Europe was massive and even spread clear across Russia and all the way to South Africa.

Oh that’s right. The poor hapless Spaniards were  just innocently sailing along and happened upon this wonderful land full of savage, uncivilized people just waiting to attack. All the poor Spaniards wanted was a meal and a place to lay their heads for the night, and any gold they could lay their hands on, and slaves for Spain, and spices, and new land, and gold, and did I mention gold?

I take no pity on invaders who steal land, kill the native populations, destroy their cultures, steal resources, take slaves and leave behind upheaval,  behind a cheap guise of ‘civilizing’ those same people.  And this from a people who brought us the Inquisition! One of the most uncivilized eras in human history. I suppose the nasty Cheyenne and Cheerokee, Hopi, Inuit, Iroquois, Sauganash, had it coming too – all 8 million of them!  Just think, if the Spaniards hadn’t made that horrible fatal mistake, we wouldn’t be talking about “Chapo” today!

And your pun is well placed. It is a white-wash. In the North American continent it’s more accurately called ‘genocide’. In Mexico and South America it’s called ‘invasion and usurpation’.


Freddy Silva's picture

That’s a solid point, Osiris. Andrew appears to forget that the intent of the Spanish — and intent is everything — was to go to the so-called New World and loot and conquer it in the name of the Spanish crown. Cortez and Co. were known to be nothing more than hired thugs and behaved accordingly, as facts prove. Cnetral Mexico was not a total nirvana in those days, and they had their own social ills, but certainly the Spanish imported deadly deseases from Europe, not the other way around.

The Aztec, on the other hand, had by then lost the plot themselves. They no longer understood the meaning of the ancient sacred teachings that had maintained American cultures in balance for thousands of years, and took to a blood lust in the mistaken idea it would appease unseen gods. In the end the Spaniards’ gold lust won.

amusing name. bastard slang Spanish for short, direct from english for chopped. But in Ladino, Bayuk, Yama & Mobilian trade pidgin for hat.

You must positively loathe Muslims then.

Bravo ! Very well written ! The white people ( of whom I am one ) were greedy and self-centered ! It makes me sick to think of what "we" did, at the expense of so many others !

If only those earlier white people could have been as virtuous as you all those indigenous people could have been spared so much suffering and exploitation. Please continue to point out the unique depravity of white people through the ages.

Give it a rest, Tom.

Each Maya ruler routinely added a layer to a pre-existing pyramid as his claim to fame. At Chitzen Itza the interior of one of the largest pyramids had been tunneled out so you can walk in and see a buried predecessor pyramid.

Tonina and Palenque seemed to have a long lasting rivalry for which there is as yet no explanation.

All of the Spanish expeditions to the new world were charged with bringing treasure (gold) to the royal court which had financed the expedition. The myth of bringing Christ to the heathens was a cover story.

Freddy Silva's picture

As a researcher in my own right, I am always wary of the official dating of such monuments to fit them into a conveniently accepted time frame. This one being a case in point: how was this site dated? Was organic matter taken from under a foundation stone and subjected to Carbon 14? If the answer is no  (a typical pattern in archaeology), then let us assume it was built by an earlier culture and adopted and adapted to the needs of a later civilization.

well y'all still argue which came first, chicken or egg... glad to read the article though and hope i can go see the pyramids in mexico some day! i have no agenda to prove here but i am sure any pyramid in chiapas would beat the smog of mexico city any day.

Cool. And interesting, the Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun, discovered in April 2005, is 220 meters tall (if measured from the land that adjoins it to the north) and almost 400 meters tall if measured from the middle of the Fojnica River (where its eastern face begins).

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