The Cerén archaeological site, sometimes called “Joya de Cerén” in Spanish, was a small Maya village in what is now El Salvador (Sheets, 2006). It was founded by immigrants from the north as part of the recovery from the cataclysmic disaster of the Ilopango volcanic eruption (Dull et al., 2001) that probably occurred in AD 536 (Dull et al., 2010). The immigrants settled on the bank of the Rio Sucio and began farming maize, beans, squash, chiles (Lentz et al., 1996), and manioc (Sheets et al., 2007). About 200 people lived there until a nearby volcanic vent erupted – the Loma Caldera event of ca. AD 660 – and buried it deeply under layers of volcanic ash.
A civic center was established in the center of the village (Gerstle, 2002) consisting of a large plaza with special buildings facing it. In contrast to the household structures, these public buildings were constructed of massive, solid earthen walls. One building suggests an authority function, with two large benches in its front room, probably seats of power for the village elders to make decisions and adjudicate disputes. Another has been only partially excavated, and it is filled with artifacts, including a turtle shell drum. Two others have been detected only with geophysical instruments and await verification and excavation.
A functional-religious building, a sauna, was maintained by Household 2. It was used for physical and spiritual cleansing and curing respiratory ailments (Sheets, 2006).
Two overtly religious buildings were sited at the highest elevation in the area, overlooking the river (Sheets, 2006). Each had multiple floor levels, from the secular outside to the highest innermost room, and each had complex floor and wall plans with white and red painted walls. One was for village ceremonies; a harvest ritual was underway when the volcano erupted. The ritual focused on deer ceremonialism, a powerful symbol of the fertility of nature for the Maya. The other building was erected for a shaman/diviner, who kept collections of minerals and beans inside to help predict the future. As all the gender-associated artifacts left to pay for services rendered were used primarily by women, it appears the diviner was female. People would approach the structure, communicate with her through a lattice window, leave an offering, and proceed to the back to hear the result through another lattice window.
Cerén is a World Heritage site, maintained by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
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