The Purepecha people of Mexico built a large empire in what is now the western state of Michoacan, beating back the Aztecs at a shared border and resisting Spanish colonization until European diseases ravaged the society. Unique among Mesoamerican peoples in many ways -- their language is said to be most related to Quechua, in far-off Peru -- the Purepecha were skilled in crafting copper and pottery but left few clues otherwise about their history and culture.
Recent work by archeologist Christopher Fisher and a team from Colorado State University, however, is shedding new light on the group's history, The Times' Thomas H. Maugh II reports. Researchers say they have discovered and mapped a previously unknown Purepechan city on Lake Patzcuaro, six miles from the remains of Tzintzuntzan, considered the civilization's last capital. Fisher believes that the recently mapped city could have operated similarly as a modern "suburb" would to the capital before the Purepecha -- or Tarascans -- consolidated their empire and moved their main ceremonial center to Tzintzuntzan.
The new urban center, still not officially named, may be as large as two square miles (five square kilometers) and includes house mounds, small temples, plazas, and a pyramid (depicted above), reports Colorado State. The discovery was made in summer 2009 as part of an ongoing survey of the Lake Patzcuaro basin, Maugh writes: