On June 13, 2012 Payson Sheets spoke to IMS on
“Between Two Volcanic Eruptions:
The Ancient Maya Village of Ceren, El Salvador”
with Payson Sheets, Ph.D.
A cataclysmic volcanic eruption from the Ilopango Caldera in the early 6th century CE rendered El Salvador and surrounding areas uninhabitable, and eliminated the Miraflores branch of Maya civilization. Local recovery required a few decades, and the Maya that founded Ceren were among the earliest colonizers. We will explore their successes in the middle of the Classic Period.
That came to an abrupt end when a very close volcanic vent, Loma Caldera, erupted and buried the village under 4-7 meters of volcanic ash. The villagers were holding a harvest ceremony at their community religious building when the eruption occurred, and they had sufficient warning to flee to the south. The sacbe discovered last summer probably was their evacuation route.
Payson Sheets (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 1974)
University of Colorado, Boulder:
My research focuses on the ancient societies of Mesoamerica and lower Central America. I am particularly interested in how societies, from egalitarian to complex, react to the sudden massive stresses of explosive volcanic eruptions. As both Ceren in El Salvador and Arenal in Costa Rica are deeply buried by volcanic ash layers, we have been developing remote sensing techniques from aircraft and satellites, and geophysical techniques for exploring many meters below the present ground surface. Recently we have discovered that the Maya were cultivating a root crop, manioc, which out-produces maize by about 15 times, in carbohydrates per unit area.
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