Before its devastating eruption in 1982, El Chichon Volcano was little known and did not appear on any listings of hazardous volcanoes. Subsequent geologic studies, based on stratigraphic and radiocarbon investigations, showed that at least three explosive eruptions had occurred previously at this volcano. In this paper, we present the result of recent studies on the stratigraphy of the volcano and new radiocarbon ages which show that at least 11 eruptions have taken place at El Chichon in the past 8000 years. Explosive events, most of them producing block-and-ash flow and surge deposits, occurred around 550, 900, 1250, 1500, 1600, 1900, 2000, 2500, 3100, 3700 and 7700 years BP. The juvenile products of these eruptions have a trachyandesitic composition with similar degree of evolution, as evidenced from their SiO2 abundance and depletion in MgO, CaO, TiO2, as well as trace and rare earth elements. This suggests segregation of olivine and orthopyroxene from the melt. Since human settlements in southeast Mexico and Central America can be traced as far back as approximately 2500 years BP, most of these events probably affected human activity. In fact, there are reports of pottery shards and other artifacts in deposits from the eruption of 1250 BP. Pottery fragments in deposits of an eruption that took place 2500 BP are also reported in this paper. Thus, the impact of the volcano on human activities has been frequent, with most of the repose intervals lasting between 100 to 600 years. The impact of the eruptions was probably of greater than local extent, because airfall tephra could reach distant sites and possibly even affect weather. The eruptive history of El Chichon also offers clues in the investigation of the Maya civilization. Several researchers have considered the volcano as an important factor in the answer to some intriguing questions such as the extensive use of volcanic ash in Late Classic Maya ceramics or, of greater importance, the causes of the collapse of the Classic Maya civilization.
Additional publication details
Volcanic history of El Chichon Volcano (Chiapas, Mexico) during the Holocene, and its impact on human activity