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chapter 1 Introduction Payson Sheets, with an Appendix by Brian R. McKee 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, ethnobotany, volcanology, and geophysics are integrated with architectural and objects conservation, site and regional master planning, and outreach and educational efforts. The cooperative efforts of the Salvadoran government, particularly CONCULTURA within the Ministry of Education, and of the nongovernmental organization Patronato Pro-Patrimonio Cultural are then described. That is followed by an overview of the organization of the book and how the chapters integrate with the wealth of data, text, pre-eruption site reconstruction, and images available on the CD-ROM An Interactive Guide to Ancient Cerén: Before the Volcano Erupted and the Cerén website (the URL address is http://ceren. text and illustrations of this book have been deliberately kept to a minimum to keep costs down, but an abundance of illustrations and detailed data are available on the CD-ROM and the website. The Natural Environment The Cerén site is located in the northern end of the broad Zapotitán Valley in what is now El Salvador (Fig. 1.1). The site’s elevation is 450 m, which combined with the 14°N latitude and topography gives the area a tropical monsoon climate (Sheets 1992a). The area receives 1,700 ± 300 mm of precipitation per year; thus dryland maize agriculture is generally quite productive. However, some years have either too much or too little rainfall, and traditional agriculturalists that are not irrigating their fields today must have ways to adjust to that range. Fully 96% of the rain falls in the rainy season from May through October, and the dry season is hot and very dry. The average annual temperature is 24°C (75°F), with December the coolest month (mean 22°C [67°F]) and April the hottest month (26°C [83°F]). The temperature fluctuation from daytime to nighttime is greater than the seasonal fluctuation, and even in April the nights are comfortable. Markgraf (1989) found no evidence of significant climatic change within the past 3,000 years in Central America, but separating the climatic component from human impact on the environment is difficult . Thus, for our purposes here, we will take the present climate as a reasonable approximation of the climate during the mid-Classic Period. Daugherty (1969) reconstructed the native climax vegetation of the Zapotitán Valley. Along the rivers and around the big lake in the center of the valley were gallery forests, composed of many different species, that had access to groundwater and thus remained green even at the height of the dry season. Over most of the rest of the valley were less dense forests of deciduous trees that would largely shed their leaves at the height of the dry season, but would remain lush for most of the year. Human impact on the natural vegetation must have been considerable by the Classic Period but not as great as it is in the valley today. Tseng 2002.3.21 12:14 6272 Sheets / BEFORE THE VOLCANO ERUPTED / sheet 13 of 238 2 sheets, with appendix by mckee figure 1.1. Map of the Cerén site, with operation and household numbers identified, and agricultural fields around them. The lines around the structures and agricultural fields are limits of excavations. Operation 1 includes all four buildings of Household 1. The two religious buildings, Structures 10 and 12, are in Operations The area has been and continues to be very active volcanically, with volcanoes ringing the valley, dominated by the San Salvador volcano complex on the eastern side and the Santa Ana volcano complex on the western side. Even major volcanoes are strikingly recent; Izalco Volcano was born in 1770 and continued erupting until 1965.The area was active in the Pliocene and Pleistocene, with the cataclysmic Coatepeque eruption (sometime between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago) conceivably affecting early human populations. The huge Ilopango eruption (Sheets 1983) about 1,800 years ago1 devastated the valley by covering it with a blanket of sterile, white acidic ash from 1...


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