Before the Volcano Erupted
The Ancient Cerén Village in Central America
Publication Year: 2002
Published by: University of Texas Press
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As with many archaeological sites, the Cer�n site was discovered by accident, as a bulldozer was flattening a hill for a construction project. It took a couple years to realize what was there, but now the site is a World Heritage Site (listed with the United Nations) and well protected and curated by the government of El Salvador...
Chapter 1: Introduction
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This chapter begins with consideration of the natural and cultural environments of the site, and then turns to the theoretical context within which the research is being conducted. That discussion is followed by a brief history of the property on which the site has been located over the past three decades, up to the present. Next follows a description of the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research project, in which archaeology...
PART ONE: Multidisciplinary Research
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This first part of the book, supported by a CDROM (An Interactive Guide to Ancient Cer�n: Before theVolcano Erupted) and website (http://ceren. colorado.edu), is multidisciplinary.The archaeology is introduced in the first chapter, beginning with the Precolumbian village called Cer�n that functioned in the southern Maya periphery. It was a village of commoners, and as such in the minds of many students...
Chapter 2: Volcanology, Stratigraphy, and Effects on Structures
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Geological and volcanological studies at the Cer�n site were designed to provide a stratigraphic framework for archaeological and other investigations at the site, to provide information about the character of the eruptions that destroyed and buried structures at the site, and to provide details...
Chapter 3: Geophysical Exploration at Cer�n
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Since 1979 a wide variety of geophysical instruments have been employed at the Cer�n site in El Salvador in order to search for and map the Classic Period landscape and the architectural features built on it. This ancient landscape is presently buried by as much as 6 m of volcanic ejecta. The instruments utilized in this effort...
Chapter 4: Cer�n Plant Resources: Abundance and Diversity
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Because of the rapid deposition of tephra on the site surface, conditions for the preservation of plant remains are excellent at Cer�n, and exceptional amounts of paleoethnobotanical data have been retrieved that shed new light on ancient plant use practices. Cer�n provides a model, not only for the investigation...
PART TWO: Household Archaeology
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Chapter 5: Ancient Home and Garden: The View from Household 1 at Cer�n
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Household 1 is a designation given to four functionally distinct structures that appear to have related to each other on the basis of proximity, complementary functions, contiguous extramural work areas, and interjoined traffic patterns (Fig. 5.1). These factors distinguish Household 1 from other nearby structures...
Chapter 6 Household 2 at Cer�n: The Remains of an Agrarian and Craft-Oriented Corporate Group
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Research at Cer�n has provided unprecedented detail on the daily lives of the Classic Period inhabitants of a Mesoamerican village. The village members formed at least three households who inhabited at least six structures. In this chapter, I discuss the archaeological recovery...
Chapter 7: Structure 16: The Kitchen of Household 3
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To date only a portion of the kitchen ofHousehold 3 has been excavated. However, based on the example established by Household 1, future investigations should reveal additional domestic structures that will confirm Household 3 as a distinct residential complex...
Chapter 8: Structure 4: A Storehouse-Workshop for Household 4
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Structure 4 was first discovered as a geophysical anomaly by resistivity explorations, and excavated in 1990 by a crew under the direction of Andrea Gerstle (see 1990 report at website http://ceren. colorado.edu or on CD-ROM An Interactive Guide to Ancient Cer�n: Before the Volcano Erupted)...
PART THREE: Special Buildings
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Chapter 9: The Civic Complex
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The civic complex at Cer�n, only partially investigated to date, has three known major elements: Structure 3, Structure 13, and a plaza area (Fig. 1.1). Two geophysical anomalies on the eastern side of the plaza may turn out to be civic structures, but they might be household buildings. Structures 3 and 13 are located on the west and south sides...
Chapter 10: Structure 9: A Precolumbian Sweat Bath at Cer�n
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Sweat baths are important in health, hygiene, and ritual in traditional Mesoamerica, and historical evidence documents their use since the Conquest. Archaeological, iconographic, and epigraphic data document sweat bath use during the Classic Period, but there are few securely identified archaeological examples. Most known sweat baths are in the central areas of large sites, presumably linked to elite ritual...
Chapter 11: Structure 10: Feasting and Village Festivals
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Structure 10 is located only 5 m west of Household 1 and 5 m east of Structure 12 (Fig. 1.1). Architectural components and the artifact assemblage suggest that Structure 10 was a special-use building which served a nonresidential function. Specifically, Structure 10 was utilized for production of community festivals and the storage of festival paraphernalia...
Chapter 12: Divination at Cer�n: The Evidence from Structure 12
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This chapter summarizes the results of archaeological investigations undertaken at Structure 12 and presents interpretations of how the building and its environs may have been used 14 centuries ago by the inhabitants of Cer�n. The data and some of the interpretations that are presented here are drawn largely from chapters in two preliminary reports...
PART FOUR: Artifacts
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Chapter 13: Ceramics and Their Use at Cer�n
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The overall objective of the Cerén ceramic analysis program has been to use the material record to reconstruct aspects of household life and community- level organization. Because of Cerén’s unique recovery circumstances, with structures destroyed during their active use rather than following abandonment, it has been possible to analyze sets of vessels according to their in-use provenience...
Chapter 14: The Chipped Stone Artifacts of Cer�n
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Because Cer�n was merely a village, we would expect it to have been rather far down in the chipped stonemanufacturing and distribution systemof the Zapotit�n Valley. That Classic Period system was revealed by a regional surface survey of the 546 km2 Zapotit�n Valley in central-western El Salvador (Black 1983; Sheets 1983). The research found dense Late Classic Period populations...
Chapter 15: Groundstone Artifacts in the Cer�n Village
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The term groundstone is used here in the broad sense (e.g. Hummer 1983; Sheets 1978, 1992b) to include artifacts made for grinding (e.g., manos, metates, and donut stones), polishing, and smoothing, as well as those for which grinding was used in their manufacture (e.g., celts, beads). Also included here are the hammerstones that were used in their manufacture...
Chapter 16: Household and Community Animal Use at Cer�n
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Animals were among the resources exploited by Cer�n inhabitants. Their utilization in household and community life was elucidated through a study of all modified and unmodified animal remains recovered from cultural contexts in excavations between 1978 and 1996 (Brown 1996). Not included in this study were animals incidentally caught in the eruption, such as mice in roofing thatch...
Chapter 17: Artifacts Made from Plant Materials
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The combination of Cerén’s unique archaeological situation and the early recognition of the extent to which perishable material could be recovered with careful removal, processing, and conservation has resulted in an assemblage of materials not usually available from household excavation projects. This category of remains gives us useful data...
PART FIVE: Topics and Issues of Cer�n Research
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Chapter 18 The Conservation Program at Cer�n
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Conservation’s primary purpose is the preservation of materials of cultural and natural value, so that they are available for future study and enjoyment. At Cerén, the particular circumstances of burial have enabled an unusually complete body of material evidence to survive, providing an exceptional resource for research and ultimately for public edification. Yet many of the materials...
Chapter 19: Household Production and Specialization at Cer�n
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The theoretical framework for this chapter, and for much of the Cer�n research, is household archaeology, the rapidly expanding subfield of archaeology that focuses on the domestic social and adaptive unit. More specifically, the objective of this chapter is to understand craft and agrarian production and specialization in households within the village context...
Chapter 20: Cultivating Biodiversity: Milpas, Gardens, and the Classic Period Landscape
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Cer�n inhabitants developed intensive methods of permanent agriculture to maximize their production of food. At Cer�n, maize (Zea mays) clearly was the principal crop, followed by beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) and malanga (Xanthosoma violaceum), squash (Cucurbita sp.), guayabas (Posoqueria latifolia), nance (Brysonima crassifolia)...
Chapter 21: Continuity and Change in the Contemporary Community of Joya de Cer�n
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In this chapter, we present a brief ethnography of the modern cantón of Joya de Cerén, within which the Cerén site is located.1 The cantón is an administrative unit consisting in this instance of five villages, of which the colonia Joya de Cerén is the central unit. According to our data, 5,834 people, living in 680 domestic groups, make up the cantón’s population...
Chapter 22: Summary and Conclusions
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The Cer�n Research Project has dedicated itself to understanding household and village life during the middle of the Classic Period. Located in a volcanically active area of the monsoon tropics, the Cer�n site has taught us much about commoners in the southern periphery of Maya culture. In order to investigate the Cer�n village, buried deeply by the eruption of Loma Caldera Volcano...
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Page Count: 238
Illustrations: 75 figures, 38 tables
Publication Year: 2002