For decades scientists thought that, in order to maintain a prosperous and powerful empire along the territories which make up what today is El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and the southwest of Mexico, the Mayan elite must have exerted strict control over the nation’s people, customs and economy.
But new signs found at Cerén, an archaeological park located barely 35 kilometers west of San Salvador, tell a very different story of this civilization that emerged near 1,000 B.C. and developed until it collapsed in the sixteenth century.
Nicknamed “The Pompeii of the Americas”, Cerén’s archaeological remains were discovered in 1976 by Payson Sheets, an anthropologist with Colorado University at Boulder. The ruins existed under a five-meter thick layer of ash, generated by an eruption of the Loma Caldera volcano approximately 1,400 years ago.
Almost four decades after the find, a team of US and El Salvador archaeologists and anthropologists led by Sheets excavated the citadel and found hundreds of daily life objects preserved in excellent condition thanks to the protective ash cover. Scientists believe the volcano eruption was so strong that people were forced to abandon the city, leaving their belongings behind. “This makes Cerén one of the richest archaeological sites in the region,” Sheets says.
The data at the excavation site tells the story of a community that seemed to have plenty of freedom to make crucial decisions about family organization, religion and food crops, according to a story published in Latin American Antiquity.