for National Geographic News
Pollution is threatening to erase thousand-year-old stone carvings at one of Mexico's most important archaeological sites, a new study shows.
The pre-Aztec city of El Tajin, located on Mexico's Gulf coast, is famous for its temple pyramids and intricately carved reliefs.
But acidic air pollutants pumped out by oil-drilling platforms and power stations along the coast are slowly eroding these carvings, according to Humberto Bravo, an air pollution specialist.
"The deterioration is alarming and could cause irreparable damage to monuments that are an important part of our cultural heritage," said Bravo, of the University of Mexico's Center for Atmospheric Sciences.
God of Thunder
El Tajin was built in what is now the state of Veracruz by the Totonac, a civilization that reached its peak from the early 9th to the early 13th century A.D. (See Mexico map.)
Much of El Tajin—the city name refers to one of the names for the Totonac god of thunder—remains unexcavated.
The site's most famous building is an elaborate niche-studded pyramid.
The ceremonial center also has a number of other temple pyramids, palaces, and courts for playing a ritual Mesoamerican ball game sometimes compared to basketball.
No other site has as many depictions of ball players and their equipment as the sculptures and carvings at El Tajin, whose inhabitants were apparently great fans of the game.
It is unclear how exactly the game was played, but it may have served as a training exercise for young warriors. Losers of the game may have been sentenced to death.
Now the carvings depicting the game are beginning to erode at an alarming rate, according to Bravo.
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