A continuing look at a Maya village in El Salvador--frozen in time by a blanket of volcanic ash from 1,400 years ago--shows the farming families who lived there went about their daily lives with virtually no strong-arming by the elite royalty lording over the valley.
Instead, archaeological evidence indicates significant interactions at the village of Ceren took place among families, village elders, craftspeople and specialty maintenance workers. This research comes from a new University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) study, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Ceren is the best-preserved ancient Maya village in all of Latin America. In A.D. 660, the village was blasted by toxic gas, pummeled by lava bombs and then choked by a 17-foot layer of ash falling over several days after the Loma Caldera volcano, less than half a mile away, erupted.
Discovered in 1978 by CU-Boulder anthropology Professor Payson Sheets, Ceren has been called the "New World Pompeii." The degree of preservation is so great researchers can see marks of finger swipes in ceramic bowls, and human footprints in gardens that host ghostly ash casts of corn stalks. Researchers have also uncovered thatched roofs, woven blankets and bean-filled pots.
Some Maya archaeological records document "top-down" societies, where the elite class made most political and economic decisions, at times exacting tribute or labor from villages, said Sheets. But at Ceren, the villagers appear to have had free reign regarding their architecture, crop choices, religious activities and economics.
"This is the first clear window anyone has had on the daily activities and the quality of life of Maya commoners back then," said Sheets, who is directing the excavation. "At Ceren we found virtually no influence and certainly no control by the elites."