The Gran Pirámide, a Mexican cultural heritage site, is located at the archaeological site of Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. At the base of its platform this pyramid is the largest in the world. It was built in layers from 800 to 1100 AD by the Cholultecan pre-Hispanic culture. The archaeological site is famous by its great mural paintings that have been well-studied. The pyramid was built with earthen construction, a system of multiple bulding episodes with layers of adobe. The building material, adobe, has not been well studied. Due to its fragile condition, a more extensive study was conducted to understand the behavior of the building and the mural paintings substrate, in order to propose conservation strategies.
Geological context of the area was the starting point to propose the relevant materials used in its construction. That was a fundamental key for the interpretation of the experimental techniques used that include X-ray Diffraction (XRD), Particle-Induced X-ray Emission (PIXE), 29Si and 27Al Nuclear-Magnetic Resonance with Magic-Angle Spin (NMR-MAS), Thermal Analysis, Optical and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and colorimetric measurements.
The results obtained from the original adobes have been compared with fresh soils from horizons related with pre-Hispanic activity. The results indicate presence of amorphous materials and neo-mineral formation besides feldspars and opal. The amorphous phases have been identified by NMR-MAS and SEM.
Differences were found in the composition from the adobe used for the joints, mainly in the clay fraction, that can be distinguished by color and that guided to group the information acquired.
These results provide new information on the composition and microstructure of adobes from the Gran Pirámide of Cholula. Further studies will involve soil physics methods and erosion tests to complete the task of having a comprehensive knowledge of the earth architecture of the pyramid.