Before the Volcano Erupted: The Ancient Cerén Village in Central America
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On an August evening around AD 600, residents of the Cerén village in the Zapotitán Valley of what is now El Salvador were sitting down to their nightly meal when ground tremors and loud steam emissions warned of an impending volcanic eruption. The villagers fled, leaving their town to be buried under five meters of volcanic ash and forgotten until a bulldozer uncovered evidence of the extraordinarily preserved town in 1976. The most intact Precolumbian village in Latin America, Cerén has been called the "Pompeii of the New World."
This book and its accompanying CD-ROM and website (ceren.colorado.edu) present complete and detailed reports of the excavations carried out at Cerén since 1978 by a multidisciplinary team of archaeologists, ethnographers, volcanologists, geophysicists, botanists, conservators, and others. The book is divided into sections that discuss the physical environment and resources, household structures and economy, special buildings and their uses, artifact analysis, and topical and theoretical issues.
As the authors present and analyze Cerén's houses and their goods, workshops, civic and religious buildings, kitchen gardens, planted fields, and garbage dumps, a new and much clearer picture of how commoners lived during the Maya Classic Period emerges. These findings constitute landmark contributions to the anthropology and archaeology of Central America.
perhaps at more distant localities. The evidence for manufacture is the ﬁnding of the majority of the hammerstones at the site within this household. As little chipped stone manufacture apparently was done within the site, the hammerstones seem to have been used for pecking and shaping vesicular andesite groundstone implements, particularly metates, manos, and donut stones. As mentioned in the groundstone chapter above, Household 1 is conspicuous for the abundance of hammerstones and groundstone
cacao, three held maize, two contained squash, three contained beans, and six vessels had chiles (most of which probably were hanging and fell into the vessels when the roof collapsed). One of the cacao-containing vessels had a layer of cotton gauze placed in it with chiles above, perhaps intended to be a Precolumbian mole sauce. In the paragraphs below, the artifacts of Structure 4 are described and interpreted beginning with the outer north room, followed by the inner south room, and ending
position. The ﬂoor is about 10 cm above the level of the exterior platform and 1.25 m below the edge of the domed roof. The ﬁre chamber is visible in the northwestern portion of Probe 1. Excavations in the Fire Chamber The ﬁre chamber at the center of the structure begins where the benches end, 1.46 m south of the entrance (Figs. 10.2, 10.4). The chamber is hemispherical and 80 cm in diameter, with a base 15–20 cm below the entrance level. It is 75– 80 cm high, and is constructed of unshaped
and other ancient Mesoamerican peoples (Miller and Taube 1993). In ancient times, caves probably functioned much as they do today for modern Zinacantecos and Lacandones—as portals to the underworld. Caves are used as a means of communicating with the Earth Lord (Vogt 1969: 387), and shamans have ‘‘the power to communicate with the deities and thereby understand the universe’’ (Sharer 1996: 163). The narrow, twisting passageways within Structure 12 could be symbolic representations of caves and of
sections outside, and were dependent upon the timing of damage to walls and roofs. At each site, stratigraphic units were sampled and textural and granulometric characteristics were analyzed. In addition to excavations at the Cerén site, more than forty distal sections of the Cerén sequence were examined to determine the distribution and thickness of deposits and to produce an isopach map. I gratefully acknowledge assistance in the ﬁeld by Brian R. McKee and Eduardo Gutiérrez. I thank Marvin