The Ceren Site: Case Study of a Maya Village
In Unit 13, we provided a description and analysis of the cultural evolution of early Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations. Much of what archaeologists know about the Maya civilization derives from investigations of the material remains of the ruling classes. In this unit we undertake an in-depth look at another side of prehistoric Maya life through examination of a rural farming village, the Ceren Site, that was preserved by deposits from a volcanic eruption, in much the same way as was Pompeii.
After completing this unit, you should be able to
- describe the natural and social environment of Ceren.
- explain why the archaeological remains at Ceren are so well preserved.
- define the term “household,” and discuss Arnould’s description of its five spheres of activity.
- define the term “household archaeology,” and describe its four goals.
- explain why biologists were included in the research program at Ceren, and describe their findings in Maya gardens and milpas.
- describe the steps in the construction of Structure 1 in Household 1.
- define the term bodega and describe why Structure 6 was interpreted as a bodega.
- explain how archaeologists knew that Structure 11 was a kitchen.
- compare the structure and function of Household 2 and Household 1.
- explain why archaeologists thought there might be a building where Structure 3 was excavated.
- describe the hypothesized function of Structure 3, and describe the evidence that supports this hypothesis.
- describe the physical and ethnographic evidence suggesting that Structure 9 was a sauna.
- describe and evaluate the evidence archaeologists used to determine the ethnicity of the residents of Ceren.
- discuss the challenges of conducting international archaeological research, citing specific examples from Payson Sheets’ work at Ceren.
- identify and describe the four special-purpose buildings that served more than one household at Ceren.
- indicate to whom Sheets refers when he speaks of the “silent people of prehistory”?
- explain why the residents of Ceren aligned their buildings and fields to about 30 degrees east of north.