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Cerén, a small Late Classic (650–900 ce) residential site that was buried during the eruption of the Laguna Caldera volcano in the sixth or seventh century. Located in the Zapotitán Valley in central El Salvador, Cerén consists of two houses, outbuildings, activity areas, and a milpa (cornfield). The descending cloud of volcanic ash and gases burned palm-thatch roofs and wooden supports in walls, and blanketed the surfaces of all structures. The thirteen-foot-thick blanket of ash insulated site remains from erosion and decay, and the high temperatures of ash and gas at deposition fired the architectural features to nearly indestructible hardness.

Cerén appears to represent part of a dispersed settlement pattern of farmers living near their fields. Besides two houses, excavations have revealed storehouses containing storage pots for chiles, corn, and beans; a sweathouse; a kitchen; and workshop areas. The house most fully excavated had bajareque (mud-and-pole) walls and floors made of a thick layer of clay. Thatch-roof construction resembled that in modern Maya houses.

Evidence of domestic activities that occurred in sections of the house were preserved. Behind a dividing wall on the raised floor were four large pots and a maul, much like modern kitchens in traditional areas of El Salvador. In the central portion of the house were a spindle whorl, for spinning cotton thread, and a miniature ceramic vessel, perhaps made by a child learning the craft. The southeastern end of the house had the vestiges of a grass floor mat, probably used for sleeping.

The milpa at Cerén had parallel cultivation ridges with intervening furrows, a method very different from that used by modern traditional Maya agriculturalists. The plant casts indicate that the Cerén site was buried by ash shortly after the onset of the growing season, in May or early June.

See alsoArchaeology .


Payson D. Sheets, "Maya Recovery from Volcanic Disasters: Ilopango and Cerén," in Archaeology 32 (1979): 32-42.

Payson D. Sheets, ed., Archaeology and Volcanism in Central America: The Zapotitán Valley of El Salvador (1983).

Payson D. Sheets et al., "Household Archaeology at Cerén, El Salvador," in Ancient Mesoamerica 1 (1990): 81-90.

Payson D. Sheets, The Cerén Site: A Prehistoric Village Buried by Volcanic Ash in Central America (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Allison, Penelope M., ed. The Archaeology of Household Activities. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Ardren, Traci, ed. Ancient Maya Women. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 2002.

Dietler, Michael, and Brian Hayden, eds, Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001.

Lentz, David L., Marilyn P. Beaudry-Corbett, Maria Luisa Reyna de Aguilar, and Lawrence Kaplan. "Foodstuffs, Forests, Fields, and Shelter: A Paleoethnobotanical Analysis of Vessel Contents from the Ceren Site, El Salvador (in Reports)." Latin American Antiquity 7, no. 3. (Sept. 1996): 247-262.

Plunket, Patricia Scarborough. Domestic Ritual in Ancient Mesoamerica. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, 2002.

Sheets, Payson D. Before the Volcano Erupted: The Ancient Cerèn Village in Central America. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

                                         Kathryn Sampeck