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Cihuatán, a large Early Postclassic (900–1250 ce) settlement located atop a hill with a commanding view of the Acelhuate River floodplain in the Paraíso Basin of central El Salvador. This site has yielded unequivocal evidence of the intrusion and dominance of Mexican (Pipil) or Mexicanized populations in central El Salvador during the Early Postclassic period.

Strong contrasts in settlement pattern and material culture distinguish the preceding Late Classic (550–900 ce) Fogón phase from the Early Postclassic Guazapa phase. Fogón settlements near Cihuatán are tightly nucleated clusters arranged in plazuela groups and located on river terraces. Guazapa settlements at the site are in a dispersed pattern, surrounding a central zone of monumental public buildings and elite residences. Guazapa settlements occur on the floodplain, on relict terraces, and atop hills. Mexican architectural traits, such as the talud-tablero form, I-shaped ball courts, and T-shaped temple platforms, characterize the public buildings at Cihuatán.

Unlike Maya-looking Fogón ceramics, the Guazapa ceramic complex emphasizes forms and decorative techniques from central Mexico and the southern Gulf Coast area. Large spiked censers are very similar to those from Tula. Life-sized modeled effigies of Mexican deities such as Tlaloc and Xipe Totec are very much like those from central Mexico and central and southern Veracruz. Mold-made, wheeled figurines are almost identical to those from Tula and the Veracruz Gulf Coast. These new traits that emerged during the Early Postclassic had antecedents not in any nearby region but in central and southern Mexico, indicating that Cihuatán was occupied by a foreign population during the Early Postclassic.

The fall of Cihuatán may be linked to struggles among recently arrived and established populations in El Salvador and Guatemala. It was destroyed by fire around 1250 ce.

See alsoPrecontact History: Latin America in the Precontact Periodxml .


William R. Fowler, Jr., "The Pipil-Nicarao of Central America" (Ph.D. diss., University of Calgary, 1981).

William R. Fowler, Jr., and Howard H. Earnest, Jr., "Settlement Patterns and Prehistory of the Paraíso Basin of El Salvador," in Journal of Field Archaeology 12 (1985): 19-32.

William R. Fowler, Jr., The Cultural Evolution of Ancient Nahua Civilizations: The Pipil-Nicarao of Central America (1989).

Additional Bibliography

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

Kelley, Jane Holden, Marsha P. Hanen, and William R. Fowler. Cihuatán, El Salvador: A Study in Intrasite Variability. Nashville: Vanderbilt University, 1988.

Lubensky, Earl H. The Excavation of Structures P-12 and P-20 at Cihuatán, El Salvador = Excavación de las estructuras P-12 y P-20 de Cihuatán, El Salvador. San Francisco: San Francisco State University, 2005.

                          Kathryn Sampeck