Cara Sucia

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Cara Sucia

Cara Sucia, a large Late Pre-classic (400 bce–250 ce) site located on the Pacific coastal plain, in the southwest corner of the Department of Ahuachapán in western El Salvador. Very little archaeological research has been done at Cara Sucia, but a general chronology of historical and cultural development has been determined. The site is composed of low clusters of temple mounds, whose architecture and arrangement are characteristic of the Pacific coastal plain centers of the Late Pre-classic period. This architectural organizational pattern contrasts with that of the nearby Salvadoran piedmont and highland basins. Piedmont sites typically have wide, artificial terraces that support potbelly monuments and jaguar heads, while highland sites have larger and more complex ceremonial centers.

In addition to its large size, Cara Sucia's impressive inventory of sculpture also emphasizes that this was an important ceremonial center. Cara Sucia is notable for its numerous Late Preclassic "jaguar head" sculptures. These jaguar heads are squarish, stylized stone faces. The dominant decorative motifs that form the face are rectangles and scrolls.

During the Middle Classic (400–700 ce), the massive Valley of Mexico center of Teotihuacán influenced much of the southern Pacific coastal plain. Cara Sucia is strongly linked by style of ceramics, architecture, and sculpture to the site of Bilbao, Guatemala in the Late Classic period (700–900 ce). Bilbao, in turn, appears to have strong connections to Teotihuacán. Thus, Cara Sucia was probably indirectly influenced by Teotihuacán.

Trade of cacao (Theobroma cacao) and obsidian (volcanic glass), both ritually important and utilitarian goods, appears to have been the basis of long distance interactions with Teotihuacán. Excavations have shown that cacao was present at Cara Sucia. A deposit of carbonized tree seeds included some tentatively identified as Theobroma cacao. A fragment of a life-sized cacao pod effigy found at Cara Sucia also indicates the ritual importance of cacao cultivation there. An U-shaped ball court, Balsam Coast-style sculpture, and ceramics indicate that the Postclassic-period (900–1500 ce) Cara Sucia settlement prospered, probably largely due to trading cacao.

See alsoArchaeology .


Stanley H. Boggs, "Las esculturas espigadas y otros datos sobre las ruinas de Cara Sucia, Departamento de Ahuachapán," in Anales del Museo Nacional "David J. Guzmán" nos. 42-48 (1968–1975): 37-56.

Paul E. Amaroli, "Cara Sucia: Nueva luz sobre el pasado de la costa occidental de El Salvador," in Universitas 1 (1984): 15-19.

Arthur A. Demarest, The Archaeology of Santa Leticia and the Rise of Maya Civilization, in publication 52 of the Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University (1986); Informe preliminar de las excavaciones arqueológicas en Cara Sucia, Departamento de Ahuachapán, El Salvador, manuscript on file, Patrimonio Cultural, El Salvador, and the Department of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University (1987).

Additional Bibliography

Cobos, Rafael. Síntesis de la arqueología de El Salvador (1850–1991). San Salvador: Dirección General de Publicaciones e Impresos, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y Arte, Dirección General del Patrimonio Cultural, 1994.

Dull, Robert A., John R. Southon, and Payson Sheets. "Volcanism, Ecology and Culture: A Reassessment of the Volcán Ilopango Tbj Eruption in the Southern Maya Realm." Latin American Antiquity Vol. 12, No. 1 (March 2001): 24-44.

Fowler, William R., and Federico Trujillo. El Salvador: Antiguas civilizaciones. San Salvador: Banco Agrícola Comercial de El Salvador, 1995.

McNeil, Cameron L. Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.

                                        Kathryn Sampeck