After the Volcano Erupted: Papers in Honor of Dr. Payson Sheets (Part 1)

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Cerén, El Salvador, has fueled the archaeological imagination for decades with its superb preservation of earthen architecture, agricultural fields, and in situ artifacts buried beneath multiple meters of volcanic ash. Payson Sheets has tirelessly led investigations of this Classic Period Maya community enhancing our understanding of ancient commoners, household archaeology, social and political organization, diet and subsistence, among other topics. The contributions of Sheets' work have wide-ranging methodological and theoretical impacts throughout archaeology. Honoring the work of Sheets, participants contribute presentations of their original research in areas influenced by Payson’s work and highlight the extensive contributions of his research across the discipline. In Part 1 of this two-part symposium, participants emphasize Payson’s contributions to archaeology through his extensive decades of archaeological exploration in El Salvador.

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  • Documents (8)

  • Bells, Blades and Bodegas: The Pervasive Influences of Payson Sheets (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Scott Simmons.

    Payson Sheets has influenced the work of a great number of archaeologists over the years, particularly researchers interested in the nature of households and the quotidian aspects of domestic life, lithic production and use, and in the field of ‘disaster archaeology.’ This paper highlights some of those influences in the work of the Maya Archaeometallurgy Project and, more recently, the Ambergris Caye Archaeological Project II, both of which are in Belize. This paper focuses on the...

  • Communicating Objects and Cultural Preservation Among Contemporary Tz’utujil Ritual Practitioners (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Linda Brown.

    A unique building (Structure 12) excavated during the early 1990’s was interpreted as a divination house serving individuals living in the agricultural community of Cerén, based on its unusual architectural features and enigmatic artifact assemblage. The latter was composed of bits-and-pieces of mostly broken, worn, or repurposed items, some of which showed physical evidence suggesting they were collected from a discard context or dated to an earlier time period. The similarity between this...

  • The Forgotten Area: The Archaeology of Morazán, El Salvador (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Brian McKee.

    The archaeology of the department of Morazán, in northeastern El Salvador, is poorly known. Several sites there were included in national site lists compiled in the 1920s and 1940s, and a small survey was conducted in the 1950s, but only one site, the Gruta del Espiritu Santo, has been thoroughly documented. Multiple reasons explain the dearth of archaeological research. Much of the worst fighting during the 1980s and 1990s civil war occurred in Morazán, which is also one of the poorest and most...

  • In the Beginning was the Codex (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Harriet 'Rae' Beaubien.

    During excavations at Cerén in the summer of 1989, a flattened expanse of paint – roughly the size of a book, with several colors visible and possibly multiple layers – was found on the floor of a niche located at the base of a bench within one of the domestic buildings (Structure 2). The archaeologists' response was both elation at the prospect that these constituted the remains of a codex (painted bark paper or animal skin "book," depicted on elite Maya ceramics, with only a very few examples...

  • Rising from the Ashes: Power and Autonomy at Ceren, El Salvador (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Christine Dixon.

    On the side of a road in El Salvador in 1978, the life of Payson Sheets and the remains of the Classic Period Maya settlement of Cerén fatefully intersected. When Sheets first understood the actual antiquity of the site buried by volcanic ash to be 1,400 years old, what could not have been known was the decades of research that would ensue, nor the wide-ranging impacts that such findings would have for household archaeology, commoner studies, and archaeological method and theory. Sheets has...

  • A Thousand Years after the Volcano Erupted: TBJ Deposits and Use at Ciudad Vieja, El Salvador (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only William Fowler. Raquel López Rodríguez.

    The impact of the eruption of Ilopango Volcano in the early sixth century A.D. has been a focus of Payson Sheets' research for more than four decades. The signature of this eruption is the distinctive "tierra blanca joven" (TBJ) layer found at sites in central and western El Salvador. Our excavations in 2013-15 at Ciudad Vieja, the archaeological remains of the Conquest-period town of San Salvador, have allowed us to identify a hitherto unknown site in the distribution of TBJ tephra. In some...

  • The Volcano That Went Boom: Payson Sheets’ Contributions to Understanding the Tierra Joven Blanca Eruption of the Ilopango Caldera, El Salvador (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rachel Egan.

    Payson Sheets’ seminal work on the Tierra Joven Blanca (TBJ) eruption of the Ilopango Caldera, El Salvador was one of the first projects to address the impact of large-scale disasters in Mesoamerica. The on-going research on this eruption has been important for understanding the event as well as developing method and theory for reconstructing the cultural impact(s) of sudden massive stresses. While originally dated to AD 290±110, the TBJ eruption has been re-dated to the mid 5-6th century and...

  • Weeds, Seeds, and Other Maya Needs (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Venicia Slotten. David Lentz.

    Our understanding of the diet, subsistence, and agricultural practices of ancient Maya commoners has been remarkably enhanced thanks to many years of archaeological investigations at Cerén led by Payson Sheets. The recovery of paleoethnobotanical remains at the site has revealed not only the storage of various well-preserved foodstuffs, but also extensive house gardens and agricultural fields filled with lasting impressions and carbonized remains of a diverse set of plant species including...