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chapter 12 Divination at Cerén: The Evidence from Structure 12 Scott E. Simmons and Payson Sheets Introduction 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 Cerén. The data and some of the interpretations that are presented here are drawn largely from chapters in two preliminary reports (see Sheets and Sheets 1990; Sheets and Simmons 1993a) that detail the archaeological investigations conducted at the building. Additional interpretations based on reevaluations of the data as well as ethnographic and archaeological research are presented here for the first time. Structure 12 has been a challenging building to interpret. Its architectural features, the composition of its artifact assemblage, orientation, and decorative elements, and the techniques and materials used in its construction are all unusual compared to those same elements found at other buildings at the site. Although the sample of excavated buildings at Cerén is small, the differences that exist between Structure 12 and most of the other structures at the site are noteworthy for a variety of reasons. Preliminary interpretations regarding the function of Structure 12 include the role it may have played as part of a larger religious complex that included Structure 10, located immediately west of Structure 12 (see Fig. 1.1). Specifically, the archaeological evidence points to Structure 12’s use as a locus for divination. However , what we lack to support this interpretation is close archaeological, ethnographic, or ethnohistorical analogs. In this chapter we present the archaeological , architectural, and other data available on the building, and then critically examine how this information suggests how Structure 12 functioned in Classic times. setting and spatial relationships Structure 12 was constructed at the highest elevation within the site and at the easternmost end of the site.Two test pits south and southwest of Structure 12 revealed a flat, smooth, and nearly level ground surface. Gerstle (1992c: 69) suggested that this was probably a built feature created by arti- ficial raising and leveling and composed of layers of clay and charcoal-stained TBJ fill material. She noted (ibid.) that in each of the two pits, the smooth surface of the TBJ was covered with a thin layer of hard-packed red sand, similar to the material used in the construction of the village plaza.The near absence of weeds and cultural debris on this surface, along with the presence of sand on this artificially constructed earthen feature, suggests that the area immediately south of Structures 10 and 12 probably was a formal plaza area, similar to that seen east of Structure 3. Only one building, Structure 17, has been identified south of Structure 12. Part of what appeared to have been a substructural mound—perhaps the remains of an associated structure—was left north of the building after the 1976 bulldozing. To the east, the steeply sloping western bank of the Río Sucio is less than 10 m from Structure 12. Structure 10 is most closely associated with Structure 12 in proximity and evidently in function. Tseng 2002.3.21 12:14 6272 Sheets / BEFORE THE VOLCANO ERUPTED / sheet 116 of 238 divination at cerén 105 excavations The building and its immediate environs were excavated in two stages, in 1990 and 1993.The first stage of excavation was concentrated on the southern two-thirds of the building and the extramural areas immediately south and west of the structure. During 1993 the excavation of the building was completed . This work centered on the north room and the front entrance, as well as the extramural areas immediately to the north, east, and west of Structure 12. Architectural Components While some general similarities with other buildings at the site do exist, many of Structure 12’s architectural features, construction methods, and decorative elements are unique. In addition, the building was oriented on a different azimuth than the other buildings at the site. Only Structures 10 and 12 are oriented about 15–20° east of north, in contrast to household and civic structures. Both buildings are the only ones painted white with red decoration. This section of the chapter is divided into separate subsections, each focusing on the different architectural components of the building. The discussion begins with a description of the subplatform and moves from the lowest architectural components of the building to the highest, ending with the roof. Thus the...


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