Identifying the ethnicity of the classic period inhabitants of Cerén, El Salvador

Material Information

Identifying the ethnicity of the classic period inhabitants of Cerén, El Salvador a comparative study
Hutchinson, Robert Henry Harris
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
xiii, 188 leaves : illustrations ; 28 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Master's ( Master of Arts)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of Anthropology, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:


Subjects / Keywords:
Ethnology -- El Salvador -- Ceren Site ( lcsh )
Ethnology -- Honduras -- Copán Site ( lcsh )
Mayas -- Ethnic identity ( lcsh )
Chorti Indians -- Ethnic identity ( lcsh )
Ceren Site (El Salvador) ( lcsh )
Copán Site (Honduras) ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 171-188).
General Note:
Department of Anthropology
Statement of Responsibility:
by Robert Henry Harris Hutchinson.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
166326186 ( OCLC )
LD1193.L43 2007m H87 ( lcc )

Full Text
Robert Henry Harris Hutchinson
B.A., University of Colorado at Boulder, 2000
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts

This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Robert Henry Harris Hutchinson
has been approved

Hutchinson, Robert Henry Harris (M.A., Anthropology)
Identifying the Ethnicity of the Classic Period Inhabitants of Ceren, El Salvador: A
Comparative Study
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Tammy Stone
The Classic Period Maya periphery was a frontier area that experienced
multiple population shifts involving various ethnic groups. This thesis attempts to
establish the ethnic identity of the inhabitants of Ceren, El Salvador, at the time of its
entombment by the Loma Caldera volcanic event (A.D. 590 90). Due to the
catastrophic effects of an earlier, fifth century eruption of the Ilopango volcano, this
site was occupied for a limited time span, and its residents were necessarily
descended from one of the ethnic groups that participated in a population shift.
To accomplish this task this study begins by comparing the domestic architectural
remains at Ceren with those of a similar time period found within rural Copan,
Honduras, as well as with domestic buildings constructed by the ethnographic
Chord, Lenca, and Xinca ethnic groups. An ethnohistoric account of vernacular
domestic structures built by the last group is also considered. Comparisons of ritual
architecture at Ceren with similarly specialized structures within a Lenca enclave at

Copan are then offered. Finally, pottery types found at Ceren and shared with other
Mesoamerican sites, and their compositional data are reviewed.
This thesis finds that the preponderance of data resulting from these analyses
strongly suggest an ethnic relationship between the residents of Ceren and the Chorti
Maya. Conversely, these same data also imply a pronounced lack of fit for the Lenca
and Xinca ethnic groups at this site. As a result, a Classic Period Chorti incursion
into western El Salvador that has been posited by some scholars is supported by the
findings of this thesis.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.

This thesis is dedicated to my wife Angelica, my daughters Alexandra and Victoria,
and my parents Bob and Mary. Each, in their own way, did without a husband,
father, or son while unflinchingly supporting my dream.

My sincere appreciation to my advisor, Tammy Stone, goes with this thesis. Without
her patience, understanding, and insightful criticisms it would have been much less
than it is. I also wish to extend my thanks to Payson Sheets for aiming me toward a
topic that is both interesting and important, and to both he and Chris Beekman for
being there whenever I needed to call upon their impressive expertise.

1. INTRODUCTION...................................................1
Thesis Organization.........................................3
2. ETHNICITY AND ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY...........................6
The Instrumentalist Paradigm................................8
The Primordialist Paradigm.................................14
Theoretical Bases for this Study...........................17
The Mam Maya.........................................19
The Kekchi Maya......................................20
Style and Ethnicity........................................24
Emblemic Style.......................................25
Assertive Style......................................26
Isochrestic Variation................................26

Ethnicity and Migration......................................29
Short-Distance Migrations..............................29
Long-Distance Migrations...............................31
Archaeological Indicators of Ethnicity.......................35
Vernacular Domestic Architecture.......................35
Ritual Structures......................................40
3. METHODS AND LIMITATIONS.........................................50
Vernacular Domestic Architecture.............................50
Ritual Structures............................................53
4. REGION AND SITE BACKGROUND......................................60
The Southeast Maya Periphery.................................60
Formative Period Occupations...........................62
The Ilopango Eruption..................................65
Regional Reoccupation..................................67
The Classic Period Occupation of Ceren.......................70

CLASSIC PERIOD RESIDENTS OF CEREN................................75
Comparisons of Domestic Architectures.........................77
Domestic Architectural Groups...........................78
Floor Plans.............................................96
Bodegas and Other Maize Storage Facilities.............108
Summary of Domestic Architecture Comparisons...........111
Comparisons of Ritual Architectures..........................114
Ritual Structures and Ethnic Expression Within the
Lenca Enclave at Copan.................................115
Ritual Structures at Ceren.............................121
Summary of Ritual Architecture Comparisons.............136
Ceramics as an Indicator of Ethnicity at Ceren...............137
Ceramic Data...........................................140
Ceramics Discussion....................................154
6. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION.......................................163
Domestic Architectures.......................................164

Ritual Structures
Final Remarks.....................................170

4.1 Map of Approximate Classic Period Maya and Lenca Areas.........61
4.2 Area of Demographic Collapse Following the TBJ Eruption.........66
4.3 Site Map of Ceren...............................................71
5.1 Examples of Sites Excavated by the Rural Sites Project at Copan..80
5.2 An Ethnographic Lenca Domicile...................................88
5.3 Plan of Structure 1 at Ceren......................................94
5.4 Plan of Structure 2 at Ceren.....................................95
5.5 Plan of an Ethnographic Chord Domicile...........................98
5.6 Chord Porch Roof Construction Technique.........................101
5.7 Artists Reconstruction of Structure 2 at Ceren.................104
5.8 Chord Domicile Roof Support and Framing Techniques..............105
5.9 Plan of Site 9N-8, Las Sepulturas, at Copan.....................116
5.10 Lenca Ritual Structure Floor Plans at Copan....................119
5.11 Plan of Structure 12 at Ceren..................................124
5.12 Plan of Structure 10 at Ceren..................................129
5.13 Artists Reconstruction of Structure 10 at Ceren..........132
5.14 Map of the Distribution Area of Guazapa Scraped Slip Ceramics..141

5.15 Map of the Zapotitan Valley, El Salvador............................143
5.16 Map of the Distribution Area of Copador Polychrome Ceramics.........146

5.1 Breakdown of Structures at Ceren and Copan by Inferred Function.....83
5.2 Comparison of Domestic Architectures...............................113
5.3 Inter-Site Proveniences Joya Complex Component Types.............156

Ethnicity is a concept easier to define in the abstract than to
perceive as a social reality. Boundaries of social groups are
often obscure in living societies and probably were equally
unclear in prehistoric ones, not to speak of their uncertain
expression in archaeological remains. Social groups and their
insignia are as changeable as other aspects of culture (Fitzhugh
In recent years, tragic inter-ethnic violence in the former Yugoslavia points to the
ability of a concept known as ethnicity to provoke unspeakable behaviors by
numerous groups of people. As news broadcasts of atrocities graphically illustrated,
ethnicity provides a powerful ideology for political motivation (Brumfiel
1994:89). Yet, and despite debate in other anthropological circles, until recently this
aspect of social identification received little attention in archaeological literature, a
situation that Emberling (1997:296) credits to the difficulties inherent in the
identification of ethnic groups by their material remains, and the past misuse of some
of these data (e.g. Kossinnas [1911] racist identification of prehistoric Germans
[Jones 1997:2-3]). As recent studies have shown however (e.g. Jones 1997; Pugh
2001; Shennan 1989; Stone 2003), a sociocultural and political force as potent as
ethnicity could not forever escape archaeological consideration.

During the past few decades anthropologists have come to a new understanding of
ethnicity and its importance in shaping behaviors that are characteristic to the
cultures that they study. Further, anthropology and its subdiscipline of archaeology
have seen a paradigm shift from the holistic study of cultures to an emphasis on
subgroups that are, and were, important components of societal structures.
Following this current anthropological trend this thesis seeks to ascertain the
questioned ethnic identity (Sheets 2002:3) of the inhabitants of Ceren, El Salvador.
This agricultural village was settled by a migrant population, remained inhabited for
only a hundred years or less during the middle of the Maya Classic period (A.D. 250-
900), and was located within the southeastern Maya periphery of its time a region
where cultural influences from multiple regions both interacted and overlapped
(McKee 2002a:7-8; Sheets 1992, 2000:424-425, 2002:3, 199; 2004:114).
Due to its entombment in volcanic ash the extraordinary preservation of the Ceren
site provides researchers with an exceptional view of the Mesoamerican frontier
during an important time in this regions history (Sheets 1992:1, 2000). This study
exploits this preservation in its attempt to provide insight into the ethnic identity of
the Classic Period residents of Ceren.
As a consequence of the research presented in the following pages this thesis
posits a Chorti ethnic identity for the inhabitants of Ceren, El Salvador. On a larger
scale, this study also offers data applicable to needed future studies concerned with
defining and understanding the significance and distribution of cultural traits within

the Classic Period southeastern Maya periphery (Schortman 1986:114). Further, by
example, the pages that follow also present useful information related to both the
retention and/or alteration of material culture forms of ethnic expression over time
and space.
Thesis Organization
This thesis begins by presenting a brief overview of the history and present status
of anthropological theory on ethnicity. In doing so Chapter 2 reviews the
instrumentalist and primordial schools of thought, and concludes that these
paradigms offer two complementary rather than mutually exclusive causes for the
creation and use of archaeologically exploitable, identity-related material culture.
Consequently, aspects of both the instrumentalist and primordialist paradigms are
adopted by this study.
In addition to offering both argument and ethnographic examples to justify the
adoption of a hybrid theoretical base for this study, Chapter 2 further supports this
decision by discussing the nature of style and its relationships to ethnic expression.
Theoretical parallels are identified between the stylistic expression of ethnicity and
the expectations of both the instrumentalist and primordialist schools of thought. As
a consequence of these combined theoretical insights, this thesis takes the view that
ethnicity can be expressed both actively and passively, and indications of ethnic

affiliation are likely to be archaeologically identifiable in numerous aspects of
material culture.
This thesis further posits that vernacular domestic architecture and ceramics are
particularly likely vehicles for ethnic symbolism at Ceren, and Chapter 2 offers
arguments to theoretically support this contention. In doing so, this studys emphasis
on the former of these factors is substantiated. Additionally, Chapter 2 overviews
the culture-specific nature of ritual space, and argues for its applicability as an
important source of identity-related supplemental data to those garnered from both
architectural and ceramic sources. In all, Chapter 2 delineates and supports the
theoretical bases employed by this study, both on an overall basis and as they apply
to the individual material culture categories it exploits.
Chapter 3 of this thesis outlines the methods employed by the study, which are
put into effect in Chapter 5. Comparisons of the vernacular domestic architecture at
Ceren with archaeological, ethnographic, and ethnohistoric Chorti, Xinca, and Lenca
household-level structures provide its methodological base. Classic Period Lenca
ritual structures are then compared with two similarly specialized structures at Ceren.
Finally, the regional distribution of ceramic types found within the site's Joya
Complex, the presence of specific attributes, and compositional analyses of this
assemblage are offered as additional indicators of ethnic identity. To put these data
into perspective, prior to proceeding with these analyses Chapter 4 presents
background material on the southeastern Maya periphery, the Zapotitan Valley, and

Ceren. In the sixth and last chapter of this thesis I review what I consider to be the
most important indicators of Classic Period Cerens ethnic affiliation.

As Baumann (2004:12) notes, scholars define ethnicity in numerous ways (e.g.
Fennell 2004:283, 286; Jones 1997:84). Hutchinson and Smiths (1996:6-7)
definition and elaboration of the term however, incorporates characteristics that are
common to many of these definitions. These characteristics include a myth of
common ancestry that at once affords a proper name for the community, as well as
providing a base for fictive kinship and past individuals or events to be ritually
celebrated. These commemorations serve to initiate, enhance, and retain the groups
solidarity. Additionally, ancestral linkage to a (often symbolic) homeland is a
common factor among ethnic groups, as are shared cultural factors such as customs,
religion, and language.
In Europe the desire to identify past population groups by their material remains
has a long history, extending back to at least as early as the Renaissance. The
nineteenth centurys surge in nationalism further sparked interest in establishing
ancestral links to material culture and, by the first few decades of the twentieth

century, the concept of archaeological culture areas as reflections of past ethnic
groups was introduced (Jones 1997:15).
V. Gordon Childe is considered to be instrumental in the European establishment
and acceptance of the concept of culture areas, and the cultural-historical approach to
archaeology that incorporates this idea. To Childe, culture is a social heritage
associated with distinctive lifeways practiced by different groups of people or, as he
used the term, ethnic[sj (Childe 1935:198 in Jones 1997:17). For Childe, since
artifacts are expressions of these discrete archaeological cultures, ethnicity could be
identified by the way that individual assemblages reflect distinctive ethnic lifeways
(Jones 1997:15-18).
The use of the cultural-historical paradigm and the resulting concept of ethnicity
were not however, limited solely to Europe. By the mid-1920s, A. V. Kidder (1962
[1924]) employed this model in his chronological study of the American southwest
and, soon thereafter, other scholars also formulated classificatory schemes that
associated artifact traits with past human cultures (Jones 1997:20-21).
During the second half of the twentieth century, the concept of ethnic groups
created by the cultural-historical approach came under considerable criticism.
Instead of monolithic, objective, isolated entities, ethnic groups came to be seen
more as self-defining systems, with their boundedness being socially constructed by
the members of the ethnic groups themselves (Jones and Graves-Brown 1996:5-6).

Within this general framework, two major schools of thought concerning the
causes and expression of ethnicity currently hold sway within the anthropological
community. These schools are commonly referred to as the instrumentalist and
primordialist views of ethnicity (Bentley 1987:25; Jones 1997:65).
The Instrumentalist Paradigm
Barths (1969) instrumentalist approach to ethnicity places its emphasis on social
boundaries between ethnic groups and the role of these boundaries in the negotiation
of social interaction and access to power. Rather than a homeostatic entity existing
in relative isolation, as proposed by the cultural-historical approach, ethnic identity is
seen as a social construct, a dynamic mixing of historical processes with synchronic
and changing contingencies. Further, ethnicity is considered to be a matter of self-
ascription and ascription by others that organizes social relations through the
establishment of group-specific basic value orientations and symbolically signaled
social boundaries. These boundaries both facilitate and constrain intra- and inter-
ethnic interactions. Though territorial counterparts may exist, ethnic boundaries are
of a social nature and, contrary to the cultural-historical concept of ethnicity, ethnic
identity and its consequent boundaries are established and maintained only in contact
situations with ethnic others (also see Shennan [1989] for a similar take on

To Barth (1969, 1994), ethnogenesis and the maintenance of ethnic boundaries
can occur for numerous reasons. Where competition for resources is not a factor, the
expression of ethnicity may occur as a boundary mechanism that facilitates
interethnic articulation in the form of trade. Additionally, ethnic differentiation and
symbiotic relationships can take place between members of the same culture group
as a result of the exploitation of differing ecological niches. Logically then,
expressions of identity are likely to be found at archaeological loci where economic
interactions transpired. On the other hand, Barth (1969, 1994) also proposes that
groups may monopolize territories and, as a result of their competition for resources,
articulation and the expression of ethnicity is anticipated to involve politics along
border areas.
In addition to ecological bases, Barth (1969) posits that migration can bring about
ethnic expression. In this instance group identity can be based on pre-established
cultural contrast...brought into conjunction with a pre-established social system
(Barth 1969:30). Within these poly-ethnic societies ethnic identity can constrain the
roles deemed appropriate for different groups and the partners with which they may
articulate, even to the point that minority populations become pariah groups (Barth
1969:17, 22-23, 30). Durham (1989:138; emphasis in original) expands on this
thought by proposing that in stratified state societies ethnicity can be: a statement of
political and economic asymmetry... effectively a declaration of social
position.. .because dominant groups readily define and frequently impose their

own symbol and value systems as normative. In this instance, ethnicity can become
less a factor of the mutual establishment of identity and more a factor of its
imposition, an identity in which boundaries between ethnic groups and host
populations are strongly maintained by the latter, often by forcing members of less
powerful groups to advertise their identity through the use of easily noticeable
diacritica (Barth 1969:17, 22-23, 30).
The expression of the ethnicity of migrant or minority groups within poly-ethnic
societies does not necessarily imply negative connotations, nor does it necessarily
result from externally imposed identity requirements. As Barth (1994:13) notes:
Ethnic relations and boundary constructions in most plural societies are not about
strangers, but about adjacent and familiar others. They involve co-residents in
encompassing social systems, and... [often] questions of how we are
distinctive from them. In these circumstances, through the use of a synchronic
rhetoric a struggle to appropriate the past (Barth 1994:13), the organizational
efforts of within-group ethnic innovators in creating and maintaining a common
group identity may also come into play. From this constructionist point of view, an
ethnic group is an imagined community (Vermeulen and Govers 1997:6), a social
construction purposefully created and maintained by knowledgeable actors to
promote group adhesion for personal and/or group benefit (often political) through
the selection, manipulation and situational expression of selected traditional culture
traits as signals of identity (Barth 1969, 1994). As a result, ethnicity is distinguished

from other forms of social identity by a belief in a common origin, descent, history
and culture (Vermeulen and Govers 1997:6; emphasis added), a belief that is
fostered and maintained through the use of ethnic symbolism, and a belief that does
not require a genetic base (Bentley 1987:27, 42).
Although Barth (1969:35) proposes that ethnic innovators expend great effort in
the selection of a limited number of traditional cultural traits as signals for identity
and the assertion of value for these cultural diacritica, he also proposes that neither
the culture features that indicate ethnic boundaries nor the individuals constituting
the group necessarily remain constant. In fact, due in part to contact with, and
interdependence between different culture groups, ethnic attributes, including their
identity defining symbolism, may well experience change. Additionally, Barth
(1969:21-25) further posits that ethnic identities will not be retained when, within the
sociocultural and economic options available, a minimal level of success cannot be
Despite the relative malleability of ethnicity and its symbolism, Barth (1969) also
posits the existence of a set of group-related rules that govern situations of contact
and influence. Incorporated within these rules are basic group value orientations that
constrain the behavior of members of individual ethnic groups in such a way that
persons would be reluctant to act in new ways from a fear that such behaviour might
be inappropriate for a person of their identity (Barth 1969:18).

In all, Barth (1969) sees ethnicity as a social construct, a mixing of historical and
changing contemporary factors that produces a type of group identity that is both
self-ascribed and ascribed by others. Interactions between people who are members
of the same group or, conversely, who are not, are organized by situationally
expressed symbolic identity markers (material culture) and/or behaviors. Though
ethnic identity (and its expression) is dynamic in nature, it is also constrained from
modification by its internal structure. As a result, the material expression of ethnic
identity can be expected to reflect some elements that experience change, while
others remain relatively consistent through both time and space (Jones 1997:72-73;
Svensson 1985:31).
Similar to Barth (1969, 1994), Ronald Cohen (1978:388) posits that ethnicity is
first and foremost situational. The latter scholar however, goes on to propose that
this situational and fluid expression of ethnicity results in a series of nested
hierarchies of we/they dichotomizations that can exist at different scales, including
within and between populations. These we/they distinctions may trigger the
establishment of ethnic groups and/or group identity-based actions within the nested
dichotomizations, including those of an intra-societal nature (Cohen 1978:399-400).
Therefore, though Barth (1969) and Cohen (1978:389) agree that ethnicity has no
existence apart from interethnic relations, the latter scholar allows for greater
flexibility in intra-societal identity group formation, expression, or reduction. As a

result, ethnic group and culture change may be effected by either internal or external
stimuli (Cohen 1978:389, 395-397).
Although intra-societal identity relationships have received a good deal of
attention in this brief review of instrumental approaches to ethnicity, it should be
noted that these relationships were not the thrust of Barths (1969) work. Instead, he
and others who follow his lead concentrate their efforts on the purposeful negotiation
and reciprocal effects of the establishment and maintenance of extra-societal social
boundaries that, at once, organize culture difference and facilitate socioeconomic and
political inter-ethnic interaction. As a result, instrumentalist approaches have been
criticized as reductionist. They define ethnicity within the bounds of situationally
expressed, rational, self-serving regularities in behavior while ignoring the cultural
context in which these behaviors take place, as well as the psychological factors that
effect group identity (Baumann 2004:13-14; Jones 1997:76-79; Stone 2003:36).
In my view, the instrumentalist approachs tendency to reduce ethnicity to a
social structure that owes its existence and continuation to the political and economic
concerns of its infinitely rational (Stone 2003:36) members can lead to
deterministic arguments that neglect the impact of socialization on individuals, as
well as important psychological and cultural aspects of this identity form. On the
other hand however, the dynamic ethnic boundaries at points of inter-ethnic contact
that are posited by instrumentalist approaches have been shown to be

ethnographically valid (e.g. Hendrickson 1995; Henry and Bankston 2001; Little
2004; Tax 1937, 1941; Wilson 1995). As a result, symbolic expressions of group
identity are likely to be found at archaeological points of extra-societal contact.
The Primordialist Paradigm
Unlike the instrumentalist school of thought, within the primordialist paradigm
the behaviors of ethnic actors are not motivated by calculations of self-interest, but
rather by a common history that both binds them and directs the patterns of their
interactions. For primordialists, ethnic ascription is not a self-reflexive matter of
choice. Instead, a cultural construal of descent and kinship reckoning establishes
ethnic identity at birth, and the process of socialization that follows ingrains this
form of social identity in a manner that gives it precedence over other identity forms
(Keyes 1981:5-6; Jones 1997:65-66).
While this aspect of primordialist thought is generally reminiscent of practice
theory, Bentley (1987) takes it a step further by formally incorporating Bourdieus
(1977, 1990) concept of habitus into the ethnic enculturation process. As a result of
this process, Bentley (1987:32) proposes that: sensations of ethnic affinity are
founded on common life experiences that generate similar habitual dispositions, a
situation that Watanabe (1984:232) finds to be the case among the ethnographic
Maya of Santiago Chimaltenango, Guatemala. As a consequence of these habitual

dispositions, ethnic actors remain generally unaware of the structure that largely
determines their consciousness, the ethnic symbolism that surrounds them, and the
manipulation of these symbols by others (Stone 2003:34).
Within the primordialist paradigm ethnic symbols can be expected to proliferate
within the mundane daily practices that result from the socialization process.
Exemplifying this is Dietler and Herbich (1998:246) proposal that dispositions
toward identity-related, patterned behaviors (habitus) are evident during all phases of
the production of archaeologically important material culture such as pottery. As a
consequence, material culture expressions of identity can be anticipated to be
reflected in many types of material culture, to remain relatively constant through
time, and to be archaeologically identifiable.
The primordialist paradigm in general, and its relationship with habitus in
particular, have been criticized as both deterministic and homeostatic (Stone
2003:39). On the other hand however, other scholars argue that habitus is not a
static concept (Dietler and Herbich 1998:247). Rather, it provides a generative
principle of regulated improvisations (Bourdieu 1977:78, quoted in Dietler and
Herbich 1998:247) that allow for change while guiding practices, including those
associated with identity.
Indeed, primordialist scholars recognize multiple causes for change in ethnic
symbolism and behaviors. For example, Charles Keyes (1981:14) proposes that

tension obtains between cultural meanings that people construct to differentiate
their primordial identities from others. This tension may then lead to a
reassessment of social boundaries, and formerly acceptable patterns of social action
may be altered. Further, Keyes (1981:14-15) allows that outside pressures resulting
from changes in the political economy, as well as interaction with ethnic others, may
institute adjustments within ethnic groups, or bring about the formation of new
ethnic groups.
In addition to being considered both deterministic and homeostatic, critics of the
primordialist paradigm also identify shortcomings in its lack of emphasis on the
social and historical factors on which group formation and continuance are based. It
is argued that primordialists mystify ethnic identity as a natural fact of human
existence: an identity form that is at once presumed to be involuntary and ineffably
coercive, but only vaguely explained. Additionally, the primordialist school has
been criticized for its inability to adequately explain the fluidity of ethnic boundaries,
the situational expression of ethnicity, and the varying degrees of importance of
ethnicity in both social contexts and in the personal psyche of individuals (Baumann
2004:13; Jones 1997:68-70, 72).

The primordial and instrumental approaches to ethnicity can be seen as
offering diametrically opposed causal explanations of ethnic behavior, underlain by
differing basic assumptions. The primordialist perspective emphasizes historical
attachments as keys to subjective claims of ethnic identity. Advocates of this school
contend that innate bonds established at birth (e.g. kinship, language, religion,
territory and culture) mold the actions of individuals within a structure, and in a
manner that is generally unrecognized yet transcendent over situational interests
(Jones 1997:65). Not surprisingly, aspects of this paradigm have been likened to
Bourdieus (1977, 1990) concept of habitus (Bentley 1987:28; Gil-White 1999:792).
On the other hand, and although the instrumentalist approach maintains that the
family unit is the key node of ethnic recruitment (Barth 1994:15), the manipulation
of culture for the political and economic benefit of group members underlies this
alternate view of ethnicity (Bentley 1987:25). This perspective has its roots in the
work of Barth (1969), and its advocates often refer to ethnic identity as a process
rather than a fixed identity form (Walter Little, personal communication 2006).
Theoretical Bases for This Study
Rather than choosing between the instrumentalist or primordialist schools of
thought, this thesis accepts aspects of both as theoretical bases to support its effort to

identify the ethnicity of the residents of Classic Period Ceren. A review of identity-
related literature makes it clear to me that vernacular ritual and domestic
architecture, as well as ceramic artifacts can be reflective of active ethnic signaling
(e.g. Gerstle 1988; Kratz 2002: Kus and Raharijaona 1990; Stone 2000; Wiessner
1983, 1984, 1985, 1990; Wilk 1990; Wobst 1977). On the other hand however, these
same material culture types may also simply reflect habitual behaviors that result in a
passive replication of the accepted manner in which structures or artifacts are
produced and/or used (habitus) (Deal 1998; Dietler and Herbich 1998:246; Hegmon
1988:277; Kratz 2002; Sackett 1985, 1986; Watanabe 1984:81-82; Wauchope 1938;
Wobst 1977:328-329).
As a consequence of these (and other) studies, I contend that aspects of both the
instrumentalist and primordialist schools of thought are correct, and that their
differing basic assumptions provide archaeologists with complementary rather than
mutually exclusive loci at which identity indicators can be anticipated. This
contention, that identity-related material culture can result from both its active
manipulation and from passive behaviors, is supported by the ethnographic examples
that follow. The latter of these studies also provides an example in which one of the
indicators of archaeological ethnicity employed by this study (vernacular domestic
architecture) is supported by ethnographic data.

The Mam Mava
Watanabes (1984) ethnographic study of the Mam Maya community of Santiago
Chimaltenango (Chimbal), Guatemala, exemplifies elements of the primordialist
perspective while also referring to one artifact type (traditional dress) which other
scholars have related to purposeful identity signaling (Hendrickson 1995; Tax 1937,
1941). According to Watanabe (1984:3), the essence of Chimalteco (the inhabitants
of Chimbal) identity lies in the mutual inclusion within an enduring here-and-now
that both constitutes and continues to shape their culture.
At the base of this mutual inclusion are Chimalteco women, who function as
the primary source of socialization for the young. Although aware of the
encroaching outside world, these women have less contact with it than the men, wear
traditional dress unique to their town, and remain largely monolingual in Mam.
Consequently, Chimalteco women, as conservators of the local language, customs,
and world view, insure that their childrens later life experiences are oriented and
shaped by indigenous concepts of family, household and community (Watanabe
This orientation results in a sense of community-based ethnic inclusiveness built
upon socially acceptable behaviors that necessarily result in material culture, and that
support primordialist expectations. As Watanabe (1984:232; emphasis added) puts

Embedded within local quotidian routines and the eternal
seasonal round, Chimalteco conventionalizations of physical
boundaries and social relations, of individual essences and
morality, and of shared public responsibilities, all demonstrate
how closely Chimalteco identity inheres to the ongoing social
interactions circumscribed by the time and place that is
Chimbal.. .Quite simply, Chimaltecos are Chimalteco because
they live in Chimbal and do what Chimaltecos do.
In my opinion the Chimalteco behaviors that Watanabe (1984) describes are
indicative of the system of structured, structuring dispositions (Bourdieu 1990:52)
anticipated within the concept of habitus. As a consequence, material correlates of at
least some of what Chimaltecos do will be the non-reflexive results of their
particular identity.
The Kekchi Maya
As Wilk (1990:34) states: The house may have great significance in defining or
stating ethnic or political affinities, an assertion that he supports with ethnographic
data collected among the Kekchi Maya of southern Belize. In this study, Wilk
(1990:35) further proposes that in addition to cultural rules (habitus), situational
issues (i.e. outside influences) along with economic, social, technical, and
psychological factors impact the form of vernacular architecture constructed by this
ethnic group. This scholar substantiates these contentions by outlining how the
advents of cash crops and wage labor have brought about changes in consumption

patterns (including domestic architecture) in some Kekchi communities. Alternately
however, he also notes that residents of isolated villages that pursue subsistence
economies have reacted to these same pressures by asserting their ethnic identity
symbolically, and by ostracizing members who stray from this symbolic norm (Wilk
In traditional (southern) Kekchi communities, domiciles are constructed entirely
from locally available materials, and communal work crews assist in the construction
and repair of domestic structures for co-residents on a village-wide basis. Due to
environmental factors, houses are inhabited for an average of a little more than six
years. As a result, construction episodes occur on a relatively frequent basis (Wilk
An overriding ethos of equality is held by the southern Kekchi. This ethos is
incorporated in, and reflected by the groups practice of communal land tenure, and
the use of communal work groups for both agricultural production and vernacular
house construction. Additionally, this same ideology of equality sets Kekchi housing
standards that include both floor plans and external construction manifestations, and
uniformity in housing design is enforced under the threat of fire (Wilk 1990:36-38,
In addition to exhibiting and reinforcing the prevalent southern Kekchi ideology
of equality (interpretable as a reflection of their habitus), consistency in house form
also performs an important second function associated with the purposeful and

public expression of ethnicity in the face of an ever encroaching outside world. It
reflects an agreed-upon norm of ethnic identity and sets boundaries on the larger
cultural construct of the Kekchi as a nation (Wilk 1990:37). Therefore, for the
southern Kekchi, the house serves as both a utilitarian artifact and a symbolic one in
both internal and external realms (Wilk 1990:40).
The regularities evinced by southern Kekchi architecture can be seen as a
boundary mechanism a situationally employed symbolic expression of ethnicity
indicative of the expectations of the instrumentalist school of thought (Barth 1969).
On the other hand however, this same regularity can also be construed as proximate
in a chain of Kekchi ethnicity related behaviors one of many behaviors that have
their roots in an ideology of equality that is an integral part of this ethnic groups
habitus, and therefore consistent with the primordialist approach.
The studies that were mentioned above exemplify the basic tenets of the
instrumentalist and primordialist school, and make it evident that identity-related
material culture can be purposefully produced, or the result of habitual behaviors.
As a consequence, each of these schools describe equally valid, but differing aspects
of behavior that result in material culture indicators of the ethnic identity becoming
part of the archaeological record. On the one hand the creation and/or use of material
culture as an identity marker is purposeful and situational, while on the other, culture

specific, non-reflexive behaviors result in artifacts and features that are
archaeologically identifiable to a particular group. Therefore, this thesis accepts and
employs the basic premises of both the instrumentalist and primordialist schools of
thought. Archaeological indicators of the ethnic identity of the residents of Ceren
are anticipated to be found within artifacts and features that were likely to be
employed in active identity signaling (e.g. ceramics in ritual contexts), as well as
those that reflect more mundane activities (e.g. the constituent structures of domestic
architectural groups and their spatial layout).
The brief discussion of the nature of style and its relationship to ethnic expression
in the following section of this thesis lends credence to these anticipated loci of
identity-related behaviors at Ceren. Additionally, I believe that these data support
my contention that the instrumentalist and primordialist schools provide
complementary theoretical bases rather than mutually exclusive explanations of the
nature of ethnicity and its expression. Indeed, as will be seen, the style debate has
many parallels with arguments offered by advocates of both the instrumentalist and
primordialist paradigms, including whether ethnic expression is the result of active
or passive behaviors. Further, since stylistic differences in the attributes of both
artifacts and architecture represent the foundation of this thesis (as they have with
many other archaeological studies focused on the identity of past populations [e.g.
Bove 2002; Santley et al. 1987; Spence 1996]), the relationships of style to ethnic
expression are important to the theoretical basis of my study.

Style and Ethnicity
As defined by Wiessner (1983:256), style is formal variation in material culture
that transmits personal and social identity, a view that developed from Wobsts
(1977) concept of style as a form of active information exchange. For these scholars,
style transmits messages that facilitate social interaction: stylistic messaging defines
mutually expectable behavior patterns and makes subsequent interaction more
predictable and less stressful (Wobst 1977:327). From this point of view, those
sets of material culture which potentially are visible to all members of a given social
group are ...likely to show a society specific expression of stylistic form (Wobst
According to Wiessner (1983:260), in order to effectively carry an appropriate
message to the largest possible audience, most style/identity-bearing, symbolic
material culture requires a relatively significant time investment to manufacture and
a long use-life. Items like the outer layer of clothing, hats, and the exteriors of
structures (Hendrickson 1995; Wobst 1977) exemplify appropriate vehicles for the
expression of identity-related style. On the other hand, because of their limited
visibility, classes of artifacts that remain within household contexts are unlikely to
carry messages of group affiliation (Wobst 1977:328-329).
Taking the key concept of visibility a bit farther, Wiessner (1983, 1985, 1990)
also posits that style can actively express identity at different scales. This scholar

differentiates between these scales through the rubrics of emblemic and assertive
Emblemic Style
To Wiessner (1983:257), emblemic style is: formal variation in material culture
that has a distinct referent and transmits a clear message to a defined target
population about conscious affiliation or identity. This messaging also expresses
social aspects of identity such as the norms, values, goals, or property associated
with a particular group. Therefore, items used to express emblemic style should
reflect both clarity and uniformity, and a discrete distribution can be anticipated.
Alteration in emblemic style may come about gradually as a result of errors in
reproduction, or rapidly when changes in its referent occurs (Wiessner 1983:257).
Following Wiessner (1983, 1985, 1990), and accepting that the successful
signaling of social affiliation rests upon correct interpretations of symbolic referents
(Henry and Bankston 2001:1023), emblemic style is the manner in which
archaeological populations can be expected to purposefully signal their corporate
identities (Shennan 1994:19). As Wiessner (1983:257) puts it, emblemic style
functions to express objective social attributes of identity, an expression of identity
that can inform about the existence of groups and [their] boundaries.
Emblemic style is not the only carrier of identity information that the researcher
can expect to encounter in the archaeological record. Artifacts can also signal

personal identity through assertive style, a style that may, in turn, be related to group
Assertive Style
Wiessner (1983:258) proposes that assertive style is based on the individuals
expression of identity that may include personal translations of membership in
various groups. In this manner, people differentiate themselves from similar others
in an effort to achieve social recognition. Additionally, assertive style may be
employed to create a positive self image on either a conscious or unconscious basis.
As a result, assertive style has no distinct referent, it only supports but does not
specifically symbolize an individuals identity. It is therefore more subject to change
due to innovation, interaction with others, and shifts in socioeconomic conditions
than emblemic style, and the distribution of items reflecting assertive style can range
from random to clinal. Following Wiessners (1983, 1985) reasoning then, the
distribution patterns of artifacts reflecting emblemic style can present the
archaeologist with significant variation when attempting to relate group identity to
material culture.
Isochrestic Variation
Although scholars generally accept Wiessners (1983, 1984, 1985, 1990) and
Wobsts (1977) concepts of style as a means to actively signal group and/or personal

identity (e.g. Hendrickson 1995; Shennan 1994:19-21), James Sackett (1985, 1986)
provides additional theoretical insight into the nature of style that has important
implications for archaeology in general, and this thesis in particular. While Sackett
(1985) does not specifically exclude Wiessners (1983, 1984, 1985, 1990) active
aspects of style, he regards the vast majority of artifactual stylistic dissimilarities to
be passive in nature, the result of what he calls isochrestic variation. Rather than
functioning as a signaling device, he contends that artifactual variation is most often
the result of choices made by an artisan from an equally viable group of options for
attaining a particular goal. To Sackett (1985), style enters the picture when these
choices become specific and consistent, a consistency that he considers to be largely
a consequence of the enculturation process of artisans within a particular identity
group. In turn, ethnic style... [is] latent in all isochrestic behavior (Sackett
1985:154) and, important for the archaeological study of identity, is therefore present
in all material culture. More specifically however, highly specific patterns of
isochrestic variation may be diagnostic of ethnicity, but these patterns are both
learned and expressed in a passive manner (Sackett 1985:157).
As the brief overv iew offered above makes evident, Wiessners (1983) and
Wobsts (1977) concept of style as a vehicle for the active communication of social
identity evinces strong parallels to the instrumentalist paradigm. Similar to Barths

(1969) proposals, stylistic messaging facilitates interaction with others while
simultaneously establishing social boundaries. On the other hand, Sacketts (1985)
notion of style as a function of isochrestic variation corresponds with the
primordialist school's concept of ethnicity as an identity form shaped by birth and
socialization processes. Although Sackett (1985) allows that some material culture
may purposefully and actively signal identity, the majority of group-specific stylistic
behaviors are anticipated to be found in virtually all forms of material culture, as the
passive result of learned, habitual behaviors. As a consequence, evidence of ethnic
expression can be expected to be manifest in mundane aspects of the archaeological
record, as well as within artifacts that more blatantly relate to group identity.
As this brief discussion attempts to make apparent, style as an active
communication vehicle and as a non-reflexive form of isochrestic variation parallel
the concepts of ethnic expression offered by the instrumentalist and primordialist
paradigms. Again, in my estimation, Wiessners (1983, 1984, 1985, 1990), Wobsts
(1977), Sacketts (1985) proposals offer complementary rather than mutually
exclusive anticipated loci and reasons for the stylistic expression of identity. This
thesis exploits these combined theoretical insights in its quest to identify the
ethnicity of the residents of Ceren.
Also important to this thesis is the relative durability of stylistic ethnic indicators
proposed by Wiessner (1983) and inferred by Sackett (1985). As the former scholar
indicates (Wiessner 1983:257), within the same ethnic group changes in emblemic

style should normally be gradual, a situation that can also be surmised from Sacketts
(1985) concept of isochrestic variation. As Chapter 4 of this thesis shows, the
Classic Period residents of Ceren were descendants of relatively recent migrants.
Based on the posited longevity of identity-related stylistic behaviors, and the rigors
of migration that are discussed in the next section of this study, it is anticipated that
indications of the ethnic origin of this population are identifiable in their material
Ethnicity and Migration
As discussed in Chapter 4 of this thesis, environmental causes limited the Classic
Period occupation of Ceren to only several decades to a century (McKee 2002a: 7-8).
This occupation was initiated by a migration or migrations that led to the
repopulation of an area that was uninhabited, or nearly so, for as much as 100 years
or more (Dull et al. 2001:39). As a consequence, the relationship between migration
and the retention and expression of ethnicity is an important factor that must be
considered when evaluating the proposed ethnic indicators at Ceren.
Short-Distance Migrations
It has long been recognized that in modem contexts, and presumably in the past,
the majority of migratory moves are over short distances within a local area. Often

these migrations take place between habitually interacting groups, and are the result
of residence changes due to marriage, or for general economic betterment.
Additionally, movement costs, coupled with the frictional effect of distance on
available knowledge concerning opportunities at far-off destinations (the result of
decreasing kinship connections with increasing space) have also been offered as
primary reasons for prevalence of short-distance moves (Anthony 1990:901).
In a related manner, scholars have also noted the gradual movement of pioneer
farming groups across the landscape, and Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza (1973,
1979, 1984) have proposed the wave-of-advance model to explain this
phenomenon. This model posits high birth rates among agriculturalists as causal for
their steady spatial progress toward less-settled areas (Anthony 1990:901-902).
However, the ecology of the Zapotitan Valley immediately prior to the Classic
Period occupation of concern to this thesis prevents the possibility of habitually
interacting groups within the region (Dull et al. 2001), thereby making socially-
based, short-distance migrations a non-viable mechanism for its population. Further,
while the wave-of-advance model and its variants might adequately account for the
spatial expansion of populations over extensive periods of time, it has been criticized
for its inability to adequately describe the dynamics of population movements on the
scale of centuries or less (Anthony 1990:901-902), as was the case at Ceren. As a
consequence, the earliest occupants arrived at this site after experiencing a migration
of some distance.

Long-Distance Migrations
Though short-distance migration movements among modem populations may be
prevalent, scholars also recognize that, even among agriculturalists, long-distance
population movements take place. Indeed, as Anthony (1990:902) puts it:
Migrations of farming populations, or of any focally adapted population, can be
long-distance, highly directed processes. Further, since societies that depend on a
narrow range of resources (e.g. Mesoamerican agriculturalists) deplete their regional
subsistence bases more quickly than those that practice a broad spectrum of
subsistence strategies, the threshold for long-distance migrations is reached more
rapidly by focally adapted populations. These migrations are typically a process that
incorporates multiple stages, and a process in which the migrants may vary
demographically by stage (Anthony 1990:901-902; Burmeister 2000:543-544).
Ethnographic and ethnohistorical evidence shows that only a segment of the
originating population characteristically participates in long distance migrations.
These data sources further reveal that migrant population segments are typically
narrowly defined and kin-based, and that these groups usually have specific goals
and destinations resulting from information networks in which interaction between
their place of origin and destination is frequent (Anthony 1990:895, 900-901;
Burmeister 2000:543-544, 549). Consequently, rather than the gradual spatial
advance of migrant groups proposed by the wave-of-advance model, Leapfrogging
migration patterns are the spatial expression of a focal subsistence strategy, skewed

(at times strongly) by the presence or absence of kin in the destination area
(Anthony 1990:903).
Facilitating information exchange between remote areas is contemporary
evidence that migration is a two-way street. Most migratory streams develop a
counter-stream in which some migrants return to their place of origin (Anthony
1990:897-898; Burmeister 2000:547). As a consequence of this feedback process,
social networks that connect migrant populations with non-migrants who remained
in their place of origin can be retained over long periods of time, and over
considerable distances a relationship that can be further supported by ritual
exchange (Burmeister 2000:544). Due to the central function of these social
networks in the migration process, individual migrant groups often come from the
same place of origin, and tend to concentrate spatially at their destination. As a
result. Stream migration will carry regionally defined artifact types from a
circumscribed home region to a specified destination (Anthony 1990:903).
Ethnographic evidence also identifies other factors that can result in the retention
and expression of ethnic symbolism by migrant groups. The rigors of migration
itself can enhance solidarity among migrant populations, and ethnic symbols can
provide a potent centralizing force for groups entering a new area (Gonzalez 1989:4).
As a consequence, even groups that were not particularly distinct before migration
may become more so in the context of their new environs (Emberling 1997:308), and

this ethnic distinctiveness can be maintained for multiple generations (Banton
On the other hand, the stylistic attributes of material culture employed by a
migrant group and its descendants cannot be expected to precisely replicate those
found at their place of origin. Contact with previously unknown ethnic groups can
lead to changes in artifact assemblages (Stefanovich 1989:313-314), as can
innovation that takes place at the migrant groups destination. Anthony (1990:903)
considers the latter of these situations to result from an artifactual founders effect,
which causes modification to material culture that initially fell within a narrowly
defined pool of variability reflective of the groups circumscribed area of origin.
Additionally, migrant groups are unlikely to bring their complete cultural complex
with them. As a result, artifactual changes come about due to incomplete culture
transmittal (Stefanovich 1989:314).
Though the extent to which evidence gleaned from modem migrations may be
efficaciously projected onto the movement of prehistoric populations remains a
question to some scholars (e.g. Burmeister 2000:543), others propose that: There is
no reason to suppose that...[pre-industrial] migrations operated substantially
differently from more recent migrations, particularly those of rural or farming
populations (Anthony 1990:898). Therefore, if Anthony is correct, we can

anticipate that ethnicity played a part in many long-distance migrations in the past,
including the population movement that brought settlers to the area of Ceren.
Following Anthony (1990:898), we can anticipate that migration into the region
originated from a narrowly defined point of origin, and was organized and
accomplished by ethnically similar individuals. Feedback mechanisms would have
fostered subsequent migrations between these areas, and these population
movements would have bypassed intervening regions while traveling toward a pre-
established destination, thereby creating an ethnic enclave in western El Salvador.
Indeed, as Anthony (1990:903-904) notes, due to the facilitating effect early
migrants have on secondary migration flows, the first ten percent of migrants to an
uninhabited area often define the ethnic origin of all subsequent migration streams to
the region. Further, migration directed through social connections usually results in
immigrants settling in spatial proximity to each other (Burmeister 2000:544).
We can also anticipate that, although incomplete and subject to some
modification, the artifact assemblage at Ceren is likely to reflect the origin of its
settlers, despite the approximate 100 years of its occupation. This assertion is
supported by the likely importance of ethnic symbolism as a centralizing force
during migration to, and settlement of a previously uninhabited area, and the fact that
ethnic distinctiveness can be maintained for multiple generations. Further, as
discussed in Chapter 5 of this thesis, the residents of Ceren apparently participated in
a social network that included ritual exchange with similar ethnic others. As a

consequence of these data, this thesis anticipates that the ethnicity of the Classic
Period inhabitants of Ceren will be reflected in, and identifiable from their material
Archaeological Indicators of Ethnicity
This thesis considers three categories of material culture in its attempt to
establish the ethnic identity of the residents of Classic Period Ceren. As Payson
Sheets (2004:115) notes, two of these material culture types, domestic architecture
and ceramics, are particularly ethnically sensitive at this site. The ritual structures at
Ceren are also considered by this thesis, but in this instance the data presented solely
serve to disassociate an ethnic group from its inhabitants. The following three
sections of this thesis present theoretical bases linking these material culture
categories to inferences of ethnicity in the archaeological record.
Vernacular Domestic Architecture
Architecture produces boundaries out of otherwise unbounded space, and the
form of space that these boundaries partition is a function of both culture and the
time period in which they occur (Kent 1990:2). However, the built form is but a
small subset of behaviors embedded within the vastness of any culture, thus making
the nature of the relationship between them, and the nature of the translation

process of one into the other, rather difficult to grasp (Rapoport 1990:10). Yet
scholars recognize that this relationship exists, and that social expressions of culture
(such as identity groups) are often reflected in the built environment (Rapoport
Architectural Variation
Adding to the difficulties inherent in understanding the relationship between the
built environment and culture is variation in architectural form. Indeed, as
Wauchope (1973:233, 236) makes clear, even among ethnically related groups
residing within comparable environmental zones where similar building materials are
available, all (Maya) houses are not constructed alike. However, in attempting to
establish ethnic identity through the use of architectural attributes all is not lost. As
Sanders (1990:44) puts it: Although materials, technology, and resources often
depend on natural factors, their manipulation depends on cultural factors.
In Sanders (1990:44) view variation in vernacular domestic architecture results
from seven factors that he places into three categories of determinants: naturally
fixed, flexible, and culturally fixed. Especially significant in the study of ethnic
expression in architecture however, is the last of these categories which, to Sanders
(1990:71), is also a primary determinant of the built form: culturally fixed
determinants are the most influential.
Within the category of naturally fixed determinants, Sanders (1990:44) includes
climate and topography, factors that can exert a noticeable influence on the design of

architecture, but also factors that builders can (to a degree) choose to ignore.
Contained within the second category of determinants, those that are flexible,
Sanders (1990:44) includes the availability of materials and economic resources (cf.
Wilk 1990), and the level of existing technology. He considers these factors to be
flexible because the degree of influence they exert on the organization of domestic
structures can vary considerably, even within the same climatic and topographic
In the final category of determinants of the built environment, the culturally fixed
factors, Sanders (1990:44-45) includes both function and cultural conventions.
When these combined factors are applied to vernacular domestic architecture of the
same time period, an interesting situation comes to light. If subject to similar
naturally fixed and flexible determinants, variation in these structures must be
ascribed to cultural conventions since the utilitarian function (a dwelling) remains
constant. This scholar attributes these cultural conventions to sets of ideas delineated
by the world views held by population groups. These ideas define group conceptions
of places within the built environment, and create cultural conventions that cue
behavioral expectations.
As a consequence of these theoretical insights, contemporary vernacular
architecture built by members of the same ethnic group can be anticipated to exhibit
a degree of shared conventions. On the other hand, dissimilar world views held by

different identity groups are likely to result in alternate spatial conventions that
differentiate them in the archaeological record.
Also important to architectural inferences of ethnicity, Sanders (1990:45)
proposes that primitive and vernacular cultural conventions and functions change
more slowly than the lifetimes of houses and, as a result, domiciles reflect a
relatively constant (or fixed) set of cultural determinants. This relative stability in
domestic architectural form may be a result of the narrow range of economic
opportunities available to subsistence level agriculturalists, both today and in the past
(Alexander 1999:7).
These insights support the applicability of the comparisons of ethnographic
vernacular domestic architecture with the archaeological record offered by this study.
Indeed, as Michael Blake (1988:45) puts it: It is within the domestic realm that
information and models derived from modem contexts are most applicable to
interpreting archaeological remains.
Architecture and Habitus
While Rapoport (1990) agrees with Sanders (1990) emphasis on the importance
of cultural determinants in structuring the design of built space, he approaches group
specific architectural regularities from a slightly different angle. In the former
scholars view (Rapoport 1990:11-12), group specific behaviors are related to culture
through what he calls activity systems, a set of multiple behaviors that are organized
in both time and space in a cultural landscape that encompasses not just domestic

structures, but also other buildings and the spaces (from immediate to regional) that
surround them. According to Rapoport (1990:12; emphasis in original), activity
systems take place in systems of settings, and it is the boundaries established by
these culturally defined settings that remind individuals of the appropriate rules and
behaviors that apply within them. Similar to Bourdieus (1977, 1990) concept of
habitus, these rules are learned during the enculturation process, change often results
from outside influences (e.g. acculturation), and behaviors are of an automatic nature
(Rapoport 1990:12).
If individuals act within established bounds interaction is facilitated which, to
Rapoport (1990:13), is the major purpose of the built environment. However (and
also similar to habitus), for this interaction to take place they must occur within a
system of regular patterns, for it is only from these regularities that individuals can
draw upon their cultural knowledge and expectations to exhibit and elicit appropriate
behaviors. As a consequence, settings (the built environment and the space around
it) are highly culture specific (Rapoport 1990:12-13, 18).
Based on Rapoports (1990) insights, it is evident that the constituent structures of
household architectural groups, as well as their spatial arrangements, represent
profitable sources of identity-related data. Comparisons of these data are anticipated
to reveal spatial similarities and differences that are indicative of corresponding or
contrasting ethnic identity.

The foregoing theoretical insights make clear that design features of domestic
structures, and the space that surrounds them, are likely sources for identity-related
data. These features are culture specific, and conservative in nature. As a
consequence, a noteworthy degree of continuity can be anticipated between similar
vernacular construction efforts at a migrant groups place of origin and structures
built by their descendants at the groups final destination. This continuity can extend
over long periods of time, and remain evident despite differences in climate and
resource availability. Additionally, domestic structures built by differing ethnic
groups can be expected to vary in their construction features.
Ritual Structures
Ritual is part of social life and human behavior everywhere. It includes objects,
specific spatial configurations and modifications, as well as words, acts, and other
signs (Kratz 2002:2; emphasis added). Ritual, as social action, also provides a
means by which identities, values and social relations are both constituted and
exhibited (Kratz 2002:3). Further, One of the most commonly mentioned and
outstanding features of ritual is its conservative nature (Pader 1982:37).
Shared religion is a common factor among ethnic groups (Hutchinson and Smith
1996:7). As a feature of shared identity, solidarity-enhancing religious rituals are

likely to provide a centralizing force during the rigors of migration (Gonzalez
1989:4) and, as a consequence, to be carried by the migrants from their place of
origin to their final destination. Subsequently, the practice of a common religion can
enhance the continuance of a groups identity (Banton 1992:164). This continuance
is further facilitated by the relatively long use-life and visibility of ritual structures,
as well as their appropriateness for conveying symbolic messages (Nielsen 1995:54).
As Rapoport (1990:11-12) notes, group-specific organization of the cultural
landscape is not limited solely to domiciles. Rather, it also includes other types of
structures, and the spaces that surround them. Societies partition this space in
manners deemed culturally appropriate for specific activities, including those related
to ritual (Sharer and Ashmore 1993:484, 486). Consequently, the design of ritual
space is likely to be rife with culture-specific symbolism meant to induce and
reinforce a shared identity and ideology (E. Blake 2001:150). Conversely, alternate
ideologies, and as a consequence identities, should be reflected by differences in the
layout and use of ritual space.
Ritual does not take place solely within or around monumental architecture.
Rather, it occurs at and influences its associated architecture at different scales. As
Kus and Raharijaona (1990) report, shared cosmological beliefs among the
ethnographic Betsileo of Madagascar underlie many of the recurring characteristics
evident in their village-level domestic and ritual structures alike characteristics that
have been maintained through numerous generations. Ashmore (1989; 1991) has

shown that cosmology can inform the layout of ritual space at scales as large as
Mesoamerican civic-ceremonial centers, and Freidel and Suhler (1999) present
ethnographic and archaeological evidence of continuing cosmology-based spatial
arrangements and ritual behaviors within individual Maya structures that go as far
back as the Late Classic Period (A.D. 650-800).
That ritual took place at different levels and locations within the Maya settlement
hierarchy is not surprising. A similar situation exists among the major religions of
todays world. Further, Webster (1994:510-511) contends that the pre-Hispanic
Maya saw symbolic continuity between elite/civic-ceremonial and non-elite forms of
architecture. As a consequence, and also similar to today, key elements of their
ideational landscape can be expected to be reflected in ritual structures at varying
settlement levels, regardless of the anticipated sociopolitical status of the ritual
Ritual is performed in all societies and, as a reflection of its participants world
view (E. Blake 2001:150), it is identity-related. World view informs the partitioning
and embellishments of ritual space in a culture-specific manner, thereby providing an
exploitable source of archaeological data apropos for this thesis.
The conservative nature of ritual, its likely importance as a centralizing force for a
migrant population, and the likelihood of this populations geographically limited,
kin-based origin (Anthony 1990; Burmeister 2000) argue that the ritual structures at

Ceren should express cosmologically-based design similarities with functionally
similar structures constructed by their fellow ethnics at other contemporary sites.
Further, design elements reflective of these key ideational themes should transcend
the sociopolitical status of the individuals who participated in rituals within these
structures. Conversely, important differences in the spatial design and elaboration
of ritual structures argues for alternate ritual behaviors resulting from disparate world
views held by differing ethnic groups.
In addition to its culinary and storage related roles, pottery can provide an
important media for information exchange related to identity (LeCount 1996:41).
The theoretical approach supporting this contention, dubbed information theory or
symbolic functionalism, is a compendium of concepts proposing that stylistic aspects
of artifacts and features can visually transmit symbolic information to
knowledgeable recipients (Rice 1987:267). As the reader will recall, the essential
characteristics of these concepts were elucidated by Wiessner (1983, 1984, 1985)
and Wobst (1977), and discussed earlier in this thesis.
Advocates of information theory note that the portability of ceramic objects
facilitates its use as a communicative device for ethnic symbolism that can be easily
recognized on both intra- and inter-ethnic bases (DeMarrais et al. 1996:18). When

combined with its ability to carry highly visible symbolic messaging, this same
portability also argues for its employment as a vehicle to foster group cohesion
within a migrant group, and as a likely item for ritual exchange with similar ethnic
others, thereby facilitating the maintenance of a shared identity. Indeed, as a number
of scholars have proposed (e.g. Beaudry-Corbett and Bishop [2002:126], DeMarrais
et al. [1996:18], and Gerstle [1988:180, 201-204]), the use of specific ceramic types,
particularly in ritual contexts, can represent the active signaling of a shared ethnic
affiliation between spatially distant and source populations.
On the other hand, ceramics can also provide the archaeologist with identity-
related data derived from passive behaviors. Among past and present Maya
populations pottery manufacturing is a skill usually learned at the local level, most
often within the household (Deal 1998; Dietler and Herbich 1998). As a
consequence, unconscious inclinations toward culturally acceptable manufacturing
alternatives (Sackett 1985) in both techniques and attributes can be expected. In a
migration situation, these inclinations, reflective of their point of departure, would
unwittingly travel to a groups destination, thereby providing a passive identity link
between these areas that is unlikely to experience swift change. Supporting this
assertion is Dietler and Herbichs (1998:246) proposal that unconscious dispositions
toward identity-related, patterned behaviors (habitus) are evident during all phases of
pottery production.

Whether employed as an active medium for symbolic signaling or as the result of
passive, habitual behaviors, the above data indicate that ceramics can provide an
important archaeological source of identity-related data. As a consequence this
thesis expends a fair amount of effort evaluating the ceramic assemblage at Ceren.
This chapter began by reviewing the basic tenets of the instrumentalist and
primordialist schools of thought, two major paradigms that hold sway within current
anthropological studies of ethnicity. In the former instance, ethnicity is a matter of
self ascription and ascription by others, and ethnic symbolism is situationally
expressed by knowledgeable actors to attain individual and/or group goals.
Conversely, advocates of the primordialist approach consider ethnicity to be an
innate form of identity that is established at birth, reinforced through socialization,
and although generally unrecognized, transcendent over situational interests. Based
on the reasoning offered by each of these schools of thought, artifacts and features
indicative of ethnicity can result from two forms of behaviors. Within the
instrumentalist school identity-related material culture is anticipated to be created
and employed as an active part of ethnic signaling, while within the primordialist
paradigm it can be expected to result from ingrained and habitual behaviors.
Rather than being mutually exclusive, this chapter argues that the instrumentalist
and primordialist schools provide complementary explanations of the nature of

ethnicity and its expression. At times it is both recognized and purposefully signaled
by knowledgeable actors, while in other instances habitual behaviors reflective of
identity are performed in a non-reflexive manner. Either situation can provide the
archaeologist with material culture indicators of ethnicity. As a consequence, this
thesis anticipates that ethnic indicators at Ceren will be evident on artifact types that
facilitate identity signaling (e.g. polychrome ceramics), as well as within the more
mundane material culture reflections of everyday life (e.g. where food is prepared).
To support this contention this chapter cited a number of studies, as well as
briefly reviewing ethnographic works relating to two Maya ethnic groups (Watanabe
1984; Wilk 1990). Evidence of material culture correlates of both active and passive
identity-related behaviors were identified in each of the latter studies. Additionally,
the nature of the relationships of style to identity markers was discussed. Based on
theoretical insights offered by a number of studies (Sackett 1985, 1986; Wiessner
1983, 1984, 1985, 1990; Wobst 1977) it was again argued that archaeological
indicators of ethnicity can result from the purposeful expression of ethnic style, or as
a consequence of habitual behaviors ingrained during the enculturation process.
Because the Middle Classic Period (A.D. 400-650) occupation of Ceren that is of
concern to this thesis was necessarily preceded by a population movement into the
region, this chapter also discussed the relationships between migration and the
retention and expression of ethnicity. This discussion showed that migrant groups

can be expected to actively employ ethnic symbolism as a centralizing force during
migration, as well as performing habitual behaviors that result in material culture
indicative of their point of origin. It was also shown that, although subject to a
degree of modification, many of these active and passive identity-related behaviors
can be expected to endure for generations following the migration event.
Consequently, this thesis anticipates that the ethnicity of the residents of Ceren will
be reflected in, and discemable from the material culture at this site.
The final sections of this chapter reviewed theoretical considerations concerning
the three specific material culture types employed by this study to assess the ethnic
identity of the inhabitants of Ceren: vernacular domestic architecture, ritual spaces,
and ceramics. In the first instance it was shown that (despite other factors) cultural
conventions most heavily influence the construction and arrangement of domestic
space, and that these aspects of vernacular architecture can be expected to remain
relatively constant over extended periods of time. Consequently, continuity between
vernacular domestic structures at a migrant groups place of origin and destination
can be anticipated, and the efficacy of analogizing similar ethnographic construction
efforts with the archaeological record is supported. Indeed, as the most applicable
information source for interpreting archaeological remains (M. Blake 1988:45), this
thesis depends heavily on comparisons with ethnographic and ethnohistoric domestic
behaviors, as represented by vernacular architecture, to ascertain the ethnicity of the
inhabitants of Ceren.

This chapter also offers that ritual structures can provide evidence of shared or
contrasting ethnic identities. To support this contention it was noted that the
organization and embellishment of ritual space serves to both induce and reinforce a
shared identity and ideology. As a consequence, the spatial arrangement of ritual
structures, as well as their decorative elements, can be expected to be culture-
specific, and key ideational features can be anticipated to be present regardless of the
sociocultural status of their anticipated users. Additionally, the conservative nature
of ritual, as well as the commonality of a shared religion among ethnic groups,
argues that ceremonial spaces employed by co-ethnics at different sites should reflect
similar design characteristics indicative of their shared ideational landscape. On the
other hand, and as will be argued is the case at Ceren, dramatic dissimilarities in the
design and decoration of ritual structures infer that they were constructed and used
by different ethnic groups.
Ceramics represent the third and last class of material culture exploited by this
thesis. In its brief review of some of the anthropological literature on the subject,
this chapter noted the ability of ceramics to stylistically transmit symbolic
information to knowledgeable recipients, as well as the likelihood that habitual
behaviors reflective of the potters group identity would be present in his or her
creations. Both instances argue that ceramic traditions reflective of identity are
transported by migrant groups to their destination, either as a tool to foster cohesion
or as a reflection of their habitus. It is also notable that, particularly when exchanged

and employed in ritual contexts, ceramics can both actively signal a shared ethnic
affiliation between spatially dispersed populations, as well as facilitating the
maintenance of this common identity. As a consequence of these insights the
ceramic assemblage at Ceren can be expected to provide important data to support or
refute ethnic inferences gleaned from vernacular domestic architecture.
In all, this chapter outlines the theoretic bases employed by this thesis, and
identifies their applicability to the data sources it exploits. In the following chapter
the methods applied to these data are reviewed.

To establish the ethnic identity of the inhabitants of Ceren this thesis considers
three categories of material culture: domestic vernacular architecture, ritual
architecture, and ceramics. It is my belief that the first of these categories provides
the most detailed and secure identity-related data for this site and, as a consequence,
it is emphasized in this study. The ceramic data discussed in this thesis provide
support for the ethnic inferences gleaned the domestic architecture at Ceren.
Additionally, comparative analyses of ritual structures at this site with those within a
Lenca compound at Copan serve to disassociate this ethnic group from the
inhabitants of Ceren.
In all, I believe that the available data combined with the methods employed by
this study result in a fairly secure identification of the ethnicity of the Classic Period
inhabitants of Ceren. By all indications, these people were of Chorti extraction.
Vernacular Domestic Architecture
The bulk of the data presented by this study are based on comparisons of
household-level architecture excavated at this site compared to ethnographic

examples of similar structures constructed by the Chorti, Lenca, and Xinca ethnic
groups. Further, domestic structures described in an ethnohistoric study of the latter
ethnic group are considered, and comparisons with the archaeological record of rural
sites at Copan. the Classic Period Chorti capital (Pequeno-Rossie 1967:122), are
In evaluating ethnic inferences in past and present domestic architecture it is
recognized that ethnographic and ethnohistoric comparisons with the archaeological
record have their interpretive limits (Bailey 1983; Ember and Ember 1995; Upham
1987; Yoffee and Sherratt 1993). Further, as Wauchope (1973:233, 236) makes
clear, even among ethnically related groups residing within comparable
environmental zones, all (Maya) houses are not constructed alike. Also limiting the
research at hand are the small archaeological exposures at Ceren, and the poor
preservation of rural household structures within the Copan valley (Webster and
Gonlin 1988:170; Webster et al. 1997:43). Additionally, the fact that all aspects of
domestic architecture do not equally reflect ethnic affinities must also be considered.
On the other hand however, and as noted in Chapter 2, the design of vernacular
domestic architecture, and the space that surrounds it, can be expected to reflect
culture-specific attributes (Rapoport 1990:12-13, 18), and cultural constraints tend to
make its form relatively stable across space and time (Anthony 1999:7; Sanders
1990:45). These traits, particular to vernacular domestic architecture, combined with

the extraordinary preservation of household-level constructions at Ceren, support this
studys emphasis on this category of material culture.
It is also notable that Sheets (2004:115) considers the domestic architecture at
Ceren (along with its ceramic assemblage) to be especially ethnically sensitive.
Taking it a step farther, S. Blake (1988), S. Blake and M. Blake (1988), and
Wauchope (1938, 1972) have identified specific attributes of Mesoamerican
vernacular household-level architecture that are particularly culture-specific. These
attributes include the constituent structures and arrangement of domestic
architectural groups, aspects of building substructures, superstructures, floor plans,
and roofs, and the location of maize storage. Consequently, by focusing on these
attributes of the vernacular domestic architecture at Ceren, this thesis concentrates on
a particularly ethnically sensitive form of material culture, and compares its most
ethnically telling characteristics with the ethnographic, ethnohistoric, and
archaeological sources listed above.
Further supporting the efficacy of ethnographic analogy for this thesis are the
comparisons of the vernacular domestic architecture at Ceren with those of Classic
Period rural Copan, and finally with the ethnographic Chorti. In the latter two
instances the shared ethnicity of the populations being compared is known (Pequeno-
Rossie 1967; Wisdom 1940) and, as Chapter 5 of this thesis shows, the continuity of
architectural form between these populations (as well as with Ceren) is striking.
Additionally, the structures being compared at Ceren and Copan are roughly

contemporaneous and, like the ethnographic Lenca and ethnohistoric Xinca also
evaluated in this study, the similar socioeconomic status of the structures inhabitants
(subsistence level agriculturalists) is identifiable.
Ritual Structures
To support or refute the posited Chorti ethnic identity for the residents of Ceren
that results from its comparisons of domestic architectural characteristics among the
studied population groups, this thesis also compares ritual structures at this site with
those excavated within a Classic Period Lenca enclave at Copan (Gerstle 1988).
When considering these comparisons however, a caveat is in order. As Sheets
(1992:104) notes when discussing Structure 12 at Ceren (a ritual locus): This might
have been the structure where a shaman practiced. If so, it could be considered a
religious structure or shrine but not one of an organized state religion. On the other
hand, the location of the Lenca ritual structures considered by this thesis, within the
elite residential area of Las Sepulturas at Copan (Gerstle 1988), argues for a more
official version of ritual practice and architectural design. Consequently,
conclusions based on the comparisons of these specialized structures must be
tempered by the fact that on the one hand the ritual loci of village level commoners
are being considered, while on the other the design and function of ritual structures
may be reflective of more formal ceremonial architecture and practices associated
with the elites.

Recognizing the limitations of comparing ritual structures at Ceren with those
within the Lenca enclave at Copan, this thesis does not employ these data to directly
ascertain the ethnicity of the residents of the former site. Rather, these comparisons
serve to illuminate similarities and/or differences in religion-based behaviors at these
two locales that could support the possibility of a Lenca occupation of Ceren or,
conversely, present evidence to the contrary.
The theoretical discussion on the nature of ritual-based behaviors offered in
Chapter 2 of this thesis supports this tactic. Specifically, as a set of identity and
ideology-related behaviors that are both conservative in nature and necessitate
specific spatial configurations (E. Blake 2001:150; Kratz 2002:2; Rapoport 1990:11-
12) rituals performed by dispersed populations holding a common world view should
result in ceremonial architecture that reflects key elements of their shared ideational
landscape. Aspects of these key elements can be expected to survive (and perhaps be
enhanced by) the rigors of migration, and to be represented in structures employed
by individuals of varying sociopolitical statuses. Conversely, alternate world views,
inferring dissimilar identities, should be archaeologically identifiable by the presence
of ritual structures reflecting dramatically different spatial configurations and
symbolic embellishments.
Supporting these contentions, and specific to the comparisons of ritual
architecture offered by this thesis, Gerstle (1988:204) posits that the Lenca ritual
structures at Copan are likely to be reflective of a continuing statement.. .of

contrasting ethnic identity with the ethnic others who formed the bulk of the
population at this site (i.e. the Chord Maya [Pequeno-Rossie 1967; Wisdom 1940]).
This scholar bases this proposal on the fact that these specialized Lenca structures
were disproportionately abundant, well built, and specific in form and function"
(Gerstle 1988:204; emphasis added). Consequently, it appears likely that these
structures incorporated design configurations that were highly reflective of a Lenca-
specific world view, including key ideational elements that can be expected to be
present within ceremonial buildings constructed by similar ethnic others at other
archaeological sites. Regardless of the probable differences in anticipated ritual
audiences at Ceren and within the Lenca enclave at Copan, it is therefore logical to
expect that spatial and decorative parallels between the specialized structures at these
sites would be present if Ceren was occupied by this ethnic group. Conversely, a
dearth of architectural similarities between these ceremonial structures is likely to
indicate a non-Lenca population for Ceren.
As Chapter 5 of this thesis illustrates, comparisons of the ritual structures at Ceren
with those within the Lenca enclave at Copan support the latter of these possibilities.
Indeed, similarities between the ritual structures at these sites are nearly nonexistent.
Consequently, this thesis interprets the results of these comparisons as indicative of a
disassociation of the Lenca ethnic group from the residents of Ceren.

This thesis also employs both stylistic and compositional ceramic evidence to
further test architectural inferences of the ethnic identity of the inhabitants of Ceren.
Fortunately for the purposes of this study, the majority of the pottery types and
varieties within the Joya Complex of Ceren are well documented, including the
identification of other Mesoamerican sites where they have been found. This thesis
exploits these data by outlining the regional distribution patterns of these ceramic
types, and analyzing the results. Little evidence of either Xinca or Lenca influence
within the Joya Complex results from this effort. On the other hand, while
confounding factors are identified and discussed by this thesis, ceramic stylistic
tendencies at Ceren tend to reflect those found at Copan and Chalchuapa, sites that
have been associated with the Chorti ethnic group (Pequeno-Rossie 1967; Sharer et
al. 1974; Sheets 1984; Thompson 1970).
To provide a less subjective measure of possible ethnic linkage, this thesis also
reviews a compositional study performed by Beaudry-Corbett and Bishop (2002) of
the well represented ceramic types at Ceren. These data again point to important
interactions with Copan and Chalchuapa, and support stylistic inferences of a Chorti
occupation of Ceren.
In employing ceramic data to support or refute ethnic inferences gleaned from the
domestic architecture at Ceren, this thesis acknowledges that the use of this form of
material culture in identity-related studies has been questioned by some scholars (e.g.

DeMarrais et al. 1996:18). Indeed, ceramic types from remote sources can make
their way into an assemblage by a number of means that have nothing to do with
shared identity (Arnold 2000:109; Rice 1987:191-197), including the possibility of
local or sub-regional markets during the Maya Classic Period (Fry 1980:16).
Following Stanton and Gallareta (2001:239), this thesis addresses this issue by
considering the contexts in which specific ceramic types were distributed at Ceren.
Rather than simply reflecting utilitarian purposes, these contexts appear to indicate
both identity-related ritual exchange with Chalchuapa, and active signaling of a
shared ethnicity with Copan.
In an effort to identify the ethnicity of the Classic Period residents of Ceren this
thesis emphasizes comparisons of vernacular domestic structures at this site with
similar construction efforts performed by the Chord, Xinca, and Lenca ethnic
groups. Although much of the data concerning the household-level architecture built
by these population groups were gleaned from ethnographic and ethnohistoric
sources, a reasonable degree of continuity is anticipated in the design attributes of
this ethnically sensitive form of material culture through both time and space. This
expectation is supported by both the theoretical studies outlined in the previous
chapter of this thesis, as well as by architectural continuities between ethnographic

Chord domestic constructions and those excavated within a rural zone of Classic
Period Copan that are elucidated in Chapter 5 of this study.
Architectural inferences of a Chord extraction for the residents of Ceren are
further supported by the ceramic data presented by this thesis. This support is based
on an analysis of the regional distribution of ceramic types found within the Joya
Complex that is detailed in this study, as well as compositional and contextual data
that are also discussed.
Comparisons of design characteristics of ritual structures at Ceren with
functionally similar structures within the Lenca enclave at Copan are also employed
by this thesis. Rather than inferring an ethnic identity for its residents however,
these efforts result in the disassociation of this ethnic group from the site.
The archaeological indicators of ethnicity employed by this thesis should not be
taken as an exhaustive list of material culture correlates of group identity. Similarly,
the methods applied within this study do not represent the only means by which
inferences of ethnicity can be gleaned from the archaeological record. In my opinion
however, these features, artifacts, and methods come together in a manner that elicits
the best evidence relating to the ethnic identity of the Classic Period inhabitants of
Ceren. While acknowledging the limitations outlined above, and that the
identification of socially autonomous groups is seldom clear in the archaeological
record (Buchignani 1987:20), I believe that the aspects of material culture and

methods employed by this thesis combine to provide valid and convincing evidence
that the residents of Ceren were of Chorti ethnic extraction.

The Southeast Maya Periphery
The archaeological site of Ceren is situated in the Zapotitan Valley, in western El
Salvador, within a region known to scholars as the southeast Maya periphery. The
boundaries of this peripheral area to the heartland of Classic Period lowland Maya
culture have customarily been drawn within the area of northeastern Guatemala,
western Honduras, and western El Salvador (Schortman 1986:114), and are based on
the distribution of characteristic architecture, settlement patterns, and artifacts (see
Schortman 1986:116-117 for a list). More specifically, Thompson (1970:86) places
the eastern-most Classic Period Maya boundary roughly astride the Rio Chamelecon
in Honduras, while the Rio Lempa in El Salvador represents the traditional boundary
between Maya and non-Maya culture areas to the east (Figure 4.1) (Longyear
1944:5; Sharer et al. 1974:165). As many scholars have noted however (e.g. Sharer
et al. 1974; Sheets 2000; Thompson 1970), this area experienced numerous
sociopolitical changes throughout the millennia, including during the Classic Period,
that makes marking cultural boundaries problematic. As a consequence, Sheets
(2000) proposes that the region is perhaps best described as containing multiple

Figure 4.1. Map of approximate Classic Period Maya and Lenca areas.
Adapted from Pequeno-Rossie (1967:30) and Longyear (1947)

frontiers (zones rather than boundaries) where Mesoamerican and Intermediate Area
cultures met. interacted, and often shifted (both spatially and culturally) from the
Formative through the Postclassic Periods.
Formative Period Occupations
Although no securely dated sites have been identified to the initial millennium of
the Early Formative Period (ca. 2500 1000 B.C.), an early sedentary society is
archaeologically known in the extreme western portion of modem day El Salvador
that was inhabited by about 1500 B.C. (Henderson 1989:865; Sheets 2000:415).
Ceramic evidence indicates that Chalchuapa, a highland site in western El Salvador
(Fig. 4.1) that was later to become an important population, economic, and
ceremonial center, was occupied at about the same time (ca. 1200 B.C.). These
ceramics express close affinities with contemporary pottery traditions found in the
Pacific coast of Guatemala and Chiapas, and may be indicative of the spread of
populations from these regions into western El Salvador (Sharer et al. 1974:169;
Sharer and Gifford 1970; Sheets 2000:416). If these ceramic inferences are accurate,
the original settlers in the Chalchuapa area were Proto-Maya speakers (Sharer et al.
During the Middle Formative Period (ca. 1000 500 B.C.) a few key sites in El
Salvador and Honduras came to prominence, and within the western areas of both of
these countries Olmec characteristics on ceramics, figurines, and other artifacts are

evident (Sheets 2000:416-417). Though the Chalchuapa ceramic complex
exemplifies these influences, perhaps the most famous indicators of an Olmec
presence/influence in this area is revealed by the low relief sculptures on boulders in
the Las Victorias portion of this site (Sharer et al. 1974:169). Further, the
construction of a large, conically shaped pyramid (Str. E3-1) that may have been
modeled after a similar structure at La Venta also occurred at Chalchuapa during this
time period (Sheets 2000:417).
Capitalizing on trade networks established by the Olmec, Chalchuapa became an
independent and socially stratified polity by the end of the Middle Formative. By the
Late Formative Period (ca. 500 B.C. A.D. 250) ceramic evidence indicates that
these trade networks, coupled with expanding agriculturalism, may have brought
about population shifts into the Maya lowlands that originated in the Chalchuapa
region (Sharer et al. 1974:170). Sheets (2000:417) posits that the establishment of a
site in the Cerron Grande region of El Salvador may have been the result of these
migrations from Chalchuapa and Cobos (1997:21) notes that ceramics discovered in
a lower level of Structure 5 at San Andres may indicate a Middle or Late Formative
occupation of the Zapotitan Valley. The latter of these sites is only about five
kilometers from the location of what would later be Ceren (Sheets 1997:63).
The early years of the Late Formative Period also saw the establishment of the
important site of Quelepa, in eastern El Salvador (Fig. 4.1). This site contains a
massive carved monolith that reflects strong stylistic parallels with those found at

Izapa, Mexico, and Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala. However, ceramic evidence from this
site, and ramps rather than Maya-like steps within its civic-ceremonial center, also
indicate strong links to the north, in Honduras (Sheets 2000:420-422; Weeks et al.
1987). Indeed, the architectural similarities between Quelepa and Los Naranjos,
Honduras, are sufficient for Weeks et al. (1987) to consider both of these sites to
have been populated by Lenca rather than Maya ethnic groups.
Based on ceramic and linguistic evidence, Andrews (1976:181) posits a Lenca
split from Maya, or Macro-Maya groups during the Late Formative Period. Sharer et
al. (1974:175-176) agree with this general scenario, and go on to speculate that a
Xinca-Lenca split also occurred within this time frame, with the latter of these
groups moving eastward, probably to Quelepa. This speculation may find support in
the Contact Period Xinca presence found south of Lake Giiija (in Honduras, north of
Chalchuapa, see Fig. 4.1), and in modem day enclaves of this ethnic group in
southeastern Guatemala (Thompson 1970:87, 94-95).
On the other hand, western El Salvador may have remained within the Maya fold.
Although Bove (2002) disagrees, Sharer et al. (1974:171) see enough commonality
in the material record of Late Formative Kaminaljuyu and Chalchuapa to propose
that the latter site was an integral part of the Late Preclassic highland Maya
florescence (the Miraflores culture sphere). In fact, artifactual similarities are
considered to be so great that the latter scholars posit that the populations of these

centers spoke the same language, Xile, an early Xinca-Lenca tongue of Macro-
Mayan stock (Sharer et al. 1974:170-171, 174-175).
The llopango Eruption
While societal and ethnic change during earlier periods might be considered to be
parts of normal chains of events, the Classic Period (A.D. 250 900) southeast Maya
periphery would suffer a volcanic incident that was anything but normal. This event
would change the direction of cultural development within the region.
Based on a recent reevaluation of earlier radiocarbon dates combined with
additional data from AMS l4C assays, the llopango caldera catastrophically erupted
in the early fifth century A.D. (2 sigma range of cal A.D. 410 535, but supporting
ceramic and demographic evidence makes the time period A.D. 415-440 most likely)
(Dull et al. 2001:17, 30, 33). This eruption, centered only 40 km southeast of the
Zapotitan Valley (Miller 2002:11), was of monumental scale (Fig 4.2). It rendered
as much as 8,000 km2 uninhabitable, blanketed an area of 10,000 km2 under 50 cm of
tephra (now identified as Tierra Blanca Joven [TBJ]) or more, and probably killed all
living things within ~ 1,000 km2 of its source. This eruption was so immense that it
buried the Zapotitan Valley under 2 m of ash or more, and has been posited to have
caused the demographic and socioeconomic collapse of an area encompassing most
of western El Salvador and southeastern Guatemala (Fig. 4.2). (Dull et al. 2001:26-
27, 32, 39-40; Sheets 2001:80, 2004:113).

The devastation caused by the Ilopango eruption signaled the end of the inter-
regional trade system that was focused on Chalchuapa, and made the Zapotitan
Valley uninhabitable (Cobos 1997:24-25; Dull et al. 2001:34). Influences of migrant
groups from western El Salvador
and eastern Guatemala who fled
the aftermath of this catastrophe
may be present as far to the north
as Barton Ramie, Belize (Sheets
1981:34). Dull etal. (2001:34,
36-37) have also proposed that
evacuation routes may have
included incursions into the area
of Copan, Honduras. Bolstering
the latter possibility is a dramatic
population increase experienced
within the Copan Valley at about
the time of the Ilopango eruption (Fash 1986:79-82).
Unlike the region to the west (downwind) of the Ilopango volcano, TBJ tephra did
not directly impact the ecology of much of eastern El Salvador. Of necessity
however, population centers in this region became separated from earlier trade
Figure 4.2. Area of demographic collapse
following the TBJ eruption. Note the
proximity of the Zapotitan Valley (VZ) to the
Ilopango eruption. From Dull et al. (2001:33)

networks to their west and, as a result, began to interact more heavily with Honduran
and Intermediate Area sites to their north and southeast (Sheets 2000:424).
Regional Reoccupation
Since the Ilopango eruption necessitates that the Classic Period residents of the
Zapotitan Valley, and therefore Ceren, were the descendants of a relatively recent
population incursion into the region, the debate between scholars concerning the
nature of the repopulation of western El Salvador is of great interest to this thesis.
As Cobos (1996: 453) notes (although he does not agree), numerous scholars have
posited that at least parts of post-Ilopango central and western El Salvador were
reoccupied as the result of a Classic Period Chorti expansion from the Copan region,
and that the eastern part of the country was inhabited by the Lenca (e.g. Sheets 1984;
Thompson 1970). Indeed, Thompson (1970:99-102) proposed that this southward
expansion of Chorti speakers from the southeastern lowlands began as early as the
Early Classic Period. Though this scholar does not include the Chalchuapa or
Zapotitan Valleys within his proposed Chorti region, he does posit a Chorti takeover
of much of western Honduras, including the Copan area, before the last decade of the
fifth century A.D. (Thompson 1970:101). Alternately, Longyear (1947) proposes a
southerly Chorti expansion that encompassed a much larger area, including all of
central and western El Salvador (Fig. 4.1).

These proposed Chorti incursions are based on strong ceramic similarities with
Copan that are found in sites within western El Salvador, and the fact that regional
large sites have [Maya-like] plazuela groups in the centers of tightly nucleated
settlements (Sheets 2000:427). By the Late Classic Period the Zapotitan Valley
boasted an integrated settlement hierarchy that ranged from isolated farmsteads to
civic-ceremonial centers (Black 1983) with large-scale formal pyramid-plaza groups
(e.g. San Andres) that infer Mesoamerican-like social differentiation and centralized
economic control. Other Mesoamerican characteristics that are also apparent in
central and western El Salvador include core-blade technology, elaborate earthen
residential architecture, and a commitment to long-distance trade (Sheets 2000:425,
427, 434).
On a local basis with Ceren, artifacts found within San Andres also exhibit ties to
Copan. An offering found within Late Classic Structure 7 at San Andres contains
(among other artifacts) both Copador ceramics and several chert eccentrics (Cobos
1997:27-28) that bear a striking resemblance to those I have personally viewed at
Copan. This offering was wrapped in a cloth that Cobos (1997:27) associates with
this influential Chorti capital (Pequeno-Rossie 1967:122) to the north. In all, these
characteristics lead some scholars to believe that the reoccupation of central El
Salvador was by thoroughly Mesoamerican peoples (Sheets 2000:425).
On the other hand however, other scholars argue that post-Ilopango remnant
populations played a role in the reoccupation of this region, and that the cultural

development of western El Salvador was of a local nature, the result of sociocultural
processes (e.g. Cobos 1996; Demarest 1988). In his comparative study of ceramics
found at Ceren, San Andres, and El Cambio, Cobos (1996:454-455) extends these
hypotheses to include the Zapotitan Valley, while also specifically questioning a
Copan-based Chord incursion into the area. To support this contention this scholar
notes the lack of ball courts, altar and stela complexes, and vaulted structures at any
site within the Zapotitan Valley. If Cobos (1996) and Demarests (1988) proposals
are correct, the repopulation and cultural development of western El Salvador could
have their roots in local Xile populations who had earlier fragmented into Xinca and
Lenca groups (Sharer et al. 1974:175-176).
To further add to the confusion, other scholars propose that Chord Maya
movements into western El Salvador may have resulted in its inhabitants being of
mixed ethnicity. Exemplifying the latter view is Sharer et al. (1974:172, 176), who
contend that water and wind erosion would have freed the sloping areas around
Chalchuapa of ash soon after the Ilopango eruption, thereby allowing for some
continuity of occupation, limited agricultural production, and the eventual
repopulation of the region by descendants of its earlier inhabitants. These scholars
go on to posit however, that in repopulating the area the descendants of
Chalchuapas pre-Ilopango population were apparently not alone, or at least not
uninfluenced by people from other regions. Artifactual traits from farther to the east
in Central America, as well as from the Ulua and Copan areas of Honduras are in

evidence at post-eruption Chalchuapa (e.g. Nicoya polychrome and Copador
ceramics) (Sharer et al. 1974:176). It is of particular importance to this thesis
however, that the archaeological evidence at Chalchuapa shows its heaviest influence
from the latter of these regions, an influence so strong that Sharer et al. (1974:176)
speculate that the Chord, or Chord-allied people from the southeastern Maya
lowlands, occupied the post-Ilopango Chalchuapa Valley.
The Classic Period Occupation of Ceren
Following perhaps a century of weathering, soil formation, vegetation succession,
and faunal reoccupations, the Zapotitan Valleys ecology had recovered sufficiently
to once again support human occupation. As a result, the sixth century A.D.
witnessed the arrival of immigrants and the founding of communities in the valley,
including the agricultural village of Ceren (Black 1983; Sheets 1978:24-25, 1984:94-
96, 2004:115).
To date, 11 of the 17 known structures at Ceren have been at least partially
excavated (Brown and Sheets 2001:114). These excavations include structures
associated with four households (although only Household 1 is entirely excavated), a
formal plaza with public buildings on its west and south sides (Strs. 3 and 13), and
two religion-related structures on the sites easternmost edge (Fig. 4.3) (Sheets

Although prosperity was enjoyed by the 100 to 150 Classic Period descendants of
the migrants to Ceren (Sheets 1992:112-115, 126, 2004:115), this good fortune was
relatively short-lived. Within several decades to a century of its founding (McKee
2002a: 8) an eruption of the Loma Caldera, its vent located only about 600 m north of
the site (Miller 2002:12), again wrought devastation on the immediate area. This
event has been radiocarbon dated to A.D. 590 90 (Sheets 1992:7), though seven
recent radiocarbon dates point to the later part of this range (2 sigma range of cal
A.D. 610-671) (Sheets 2004:115). As a consequence of the Ilopango and Loma

Caldera volcanic events, the occupation of Ceren that is addressed by this thesis was
limited to the early to middle years of the sixth and seventh centuries A.D.
Relative to the Ilopango eruption the Loma Caldera event was miniscule,
affecting only a few km However, the rapid nature of the former eruption and its
proximity to Ceren caused the site to be hurriedly abandoned, with most of its
artifacts left in place. This event also deeply buried Ceren in volcanic ash, a
circumstance that resulted in its extraordinary state of preservation (Sheets 1981,
1992:1, 14), and that facilitates this thesis efforts to identify the ethnic origins of its
This chapter briefly outlined some of the interconnected occurrences within the
southeastern Maya periphery that are relevant to establishing the ethnicity of the
Classic Period residents of Ceren. It was noted that this region experienced
numerous sociopolitical changes through the millennia, including a major population
and socioeconomic shift out of western El Salvador as a consequence of the Ilopango
eruption. By about the beginning of the sixth century A.D. however, this area was
repopulated, but the presence of multiple ethnic groups in the region leaves the
ethnicity of these people in doubt.
As this chapter shows, candidate ethnic groups for the resettlement of western El
Salvador (and Ceren) include the Chorti, Xinca and Lenca. In the former instance,

repopulation would have occurred as part of the Chorti expansion out of the Copan
area that has been posited by some scholars (e.g. Longyear 1947; Sheets 1984). On
the other hand, Cobos (1996) has questioned a Chorti incursion into the Zapotitan
Valley, and argued that the reoccupation of this area, and the cultural developments
that ensued, were of a more local nature. If this was the case, these local populations
may have been descendants of Formative Period Xile speakers who had previously
fragmented into Xinca and Lenca ethnic groups (Sharer et al. 1974:175-176).
Additionally, the possibility was noted that the post-Ilopango repopulation of the
region resulted in Classic Period inhabitants of mixed ethnicity (Sharer et al. 1974).
In addition to a brief regional overview this chapter also outlined the events
surrounding the Classic Period occupation of Ceren. Due to the devastation caused
by the Ilopango eruption, this site was necessarily settled by people from without the
Zapotitan Valley (Dull et al. 2001; Sheets 2004). In a matter of decades to perhaps
100 years, the more localized Loma Caldera volcanic event again entombed the
immediate area of Ceren within volcanic ash, ending the Classic Period occupation
of the site. While unfortunate for the inhabitants of Ceren, the latter volcanic event
provided for its extraordinary preservation (Sheets 2001:80, 2004:114-116), a factor
this thesis capitalizes upon.
And so we come to the crux of the problem addressed by this thesis. Out of the
multiple possibilities outlined by this chapter, what was the ethnicity of the

inhabitants of Classic Period Ceren? The following chapters of this thesis attempt to
provide insight into this question.

In an effort to identify the ethnicity of the Classic Period residents of Ceren, this
chapter places its major emphasis on domestic architecture. Attributes considered to
be indicative of ethnic behaviors are identified by means of comparisons with
archaeological remains found within the rural region surrounding the Precolumbian
Chorti capital (Pequeno-Rossie 1967:122) of Copan, and with ethnographic
descriptions of vernacular architecture constructed by the Chorti, Lenca, and Xinca
ethnic groups of the recent past. Additionally, ethnohistoric data concerning Xinca
domestic structures are considered.
The value of domestic architecture as an ethnic indicator is based on a simple
premise. Although, even within the same ethnic group variability in vernacular
architecture is to be expected (Wauchope 1973:233, 236), a relatively constant (or
fixed) set of cultural determinants (Sanders 1990:45) inform the construction and
content of both ethnographic and archaeological domestic architectural assemblages.
As a result, vernacular domestic architecture is considered to be an especially

sensitive indicator of ethnicity (Sheets 2004:115), with many of its attributes
remaining relatively constant through both time and space.
This anticipated constancy forms the basis for the household level architectural
comparisons made by this thesis. If the residents of Ceren were related to an ethic
group considered by this study, a degree of consistency in the manner of construction
and form of their respective vernacular domestic architectures is anticipated.
Conversely, the household level buildings constructed by non-related groups are
expected to reflect dissimilarities to a degree that may be sufficient to disassociate
them from the inhabitants of Ceren.
In addition to domestic architectural data, a brief comparative study of ritual
structures at Ceren with similarly specialized buildings within an archaeological
Lenca enclave at Copan is presented. In comparing these specialized structures it is
assumed that ritual, as social action, provides a means by which identities, values
and social relations are both constituted and exhibited (Kratz 2002:3). Consequently,
dissimilarities in specialized structures are considered to be indicative of differing
ritual behaviors related to differing ethnic groups.
Finally, this chapter also discusses the regional distribution of ceramic types
found at Ceren. In doing so it is assumed that, in addition to its culinary and storage
related roles, pottery can provide an appropriate media for information exchange
related to identity (LeCount 1996:41; Wiessner 1983, 1984, 1985; Wobst 1977).
This identity-related information may actively reflect affiliations that connect the

descendants of migrant populations with non-migrants who remained in their place
of origin (Burmeister 2000:544). On the other hand, the presence of particular
pottery types can also be related to unconscious inclinations toward culturally
acceptable manufacturing and use alternatives that are again ethnically specific
(Bourdieu 1977, 1990; Sackett 1985). Perhaps because of both of these behavioral
possibilities, in addition to vernacular domestic architecture, the ceramics found at
Ceren are considered to be one of the most ethnically telling categories of material
culture (Sheets 2004:115).
The aspects of material culture considered in this study indicate that an ethnic
relationship between the occupants of Ceren and the Chorti Maya is likely.
Conversely, a disassociation of the Lenca and Xinca ethnic groups with this Classic
Period site is also evident. Consequently, this thesis proposes that the Classic Period
residents of Ceren at the time of its demise were descendants of a Chorti migrant
group who retained this identity.
Comparisons of Domestic Architectures
This chapter limits the majority of its architectural comparisons to factors
considered to be most indicative of ethnicity by scholars such as Susan Blake (1988),
Michael Blake (S. Blake and M. Blake 1988), and Robert Wauchope (1973). These
factors include substructures, floor plans, roofs, and the location of maize storage.
Additionally, the types and arrangement of structures that comprise domestic

architectural groups are considered to be ethnically indicative (Sheets 2004:115), as
well as superstructure elements such as the manner in which bajareque (waddle-and-
daub) walls are constructed, and the nature of the columns that define the comers of
domiciles within the study area. While no smoking gun is identified, comparisons
of these features appear to indicate an ethnic relationship between the Chord and the
occupants of Classic Period Ceren.
Domestic Architectural Groups
Differences between the location of domestic activities, and the arrangement of
Lenca and Xinca household level compounds with those found among the
ethnographic Chord and the archaeological populations of both Ceren (Fig. 4.3) and
Copan (Fig. 5.1), appear to set the former two ethnic groups apart from the latter
populations. Conversely, the composition and arrangement of Chord domestic
compounds (Wisdom 1940:18) is in many ways similar to those found at the two
archaeological sites (Sheets 1992:xii; Webster et al. 1997:47, 51). These differences
and similarities in structural arrangement may be especially ethnically telling and, as
a consequence, important to this study. As Webster et al. (1997:48) note, the pattern
of household structures at Ceren was not a function of local topographic constraints.
Rather, this pattern was socially determined.
The architectural arrangements of both Ceren and Copan parallel nicely with
Sanders (1981:355) description of the physical makeup of Precolumbian Maya

households: a group of separate structures arranged around a patio...each structure
having a different function so that the household often included buildings for
sleeping, a cookhouse and ceremonial structures (Figs. 4.3 and 5.1). Nonetheless,
when comparing site plans between these ethnic groups it must also be noted that
neither the ethnographic Chorti nor the architectural arrangements evident within the
two archaeological study areas (Ceren and rural Copan) fit precisely with Sanders
(1981) description. For instance, family level ceremonial structures have not yet
been found at Ceren, and the patio area of Site 32B-16-1 at Copan (Fig. 5.1) is
poorly defined. On the other hand however, important architectural parallels exist
among these populations that are not found among the Lenca and Xinca ethnic
Domestic Architectural Groups at Ceren
Similar to Sanders (1981) description of Maya household level architectural
clusters, each household at Ceren had a domicile, a kitchen and, though not
specifically mentioned by Sanders (1981), a storehouse (bodega) (McKee 2002b:58;
Sheets 1992:xii, 2004:115) arranged around a patio area (Fig. 4.3). Though not
considered in this analysis, Household 1 also incorporated a ramada (Beaudry-
Corbett et al. 2002:49), and a sweat bath was located in the proximity of Household
2 that may have been controlled by its residents (Strs. 5 and 9 on Fig 4.3,
respectively) (McKee 2002b:70).

Site 7D-3-1 Site 7D-6-2
From Webster et al. (1997:52). From Webster and Gonlin (1988:177).
Site 32B-16-1
From Webster et al. (1997:47).
Figure 5.1. Examples of sites excavated by the Rural Sites Project at Copan.

Ethnographic Chorti Domestic Architectural Groups
In a fashion similar to the arrangement of domestic architecture found at Ceren,
ethnographic Chorti household level architectural groups normally include multiple
buildings, each serving a different function. Again like Ceren, domiciles and
bodegas are placed in a rough circle, thereby circumscribing a central courtyard. In
an apparent divergence from the constituent domestic structures at Ceren however,
Chorti household clusters often include multiple domiciles and the ancillary
structures that support them. These ancillary structures include a single kitchen,
several bodegas, a privy, and occasionally an altar house. Additionally, the domicile
and kitchen are invariably placed end-to-end, about twelve feet (3.6 m) apart
(Wisdom 1940:119-120).
Though many Chorti domestic architectural groups incorporate multiple
domiciles and bodegas (but only a single kitchen), this is not always the case. Some
smaller Chorti household clusters include only a single domicile, bodega, and
kitchen, along with a privy and perhaps a shed or two (Wisdom 1940:119). In both
content and layout, these smaller clusters are very similar to those constructed and
used by the inhabitants of Classic Period Ceren.
While the structures that comprise domestic architectural clusters and their spatial
distribution evince both similarities and differences between the ethnographic Chorti
and those found at Ceren, topography may play a role in the manner in which the
former group arranges its architecture that, as Webster et al. (1997:48) note, did not

affect the latter. The modem Chorti inhabit a region that is extremely mountainous,
where few domestic structures can be constructed on naturally level ground.
Consequently, the sites where most domiciles are built must be created by excavating
and leveling an area of a hillside. This effort normally provides enough level ground
to accommodate two structures placed end-to-end (recall the placement of Chorti
domiciles and kitchens), with about two feet (0.6 m) of level space extending beyond
the walls that parallel the hillside. The material required for the Chorti to construct
their raised floors also results from these cut-and-fill excavation and leveling efforts
(Wisdom 1940:121).
Rural Domestic Architectural Groups in the Copan Valley
As at Ceren and among the ethnographic Chorti, the majority (n = 1 of 8) of the
domestic architectural groups excavated by the Rural Sites Project in the Copan
Valley are arranged in a manner that incorporates some type of a patio area (Fig. 5.1)
(Webster and Gonlin 1988). Further, with the exception of Site 34A-12-1 that was
interpreted as a field hut (Webster and Gonlin 1988:178), each site consists of a set
of structures functionally equivalent to a single household cluster at Ceren (Webster
et al. 1997:50). Indeed, while preservation within the Copan Valley limits functional
interpretations for all buildings, domiciles, storage structures, and a kitchen were
identified among the domestic architectural clusters excavated in this region (Table
5.1) (Webster et al. 1997:45-46, 54).

Lenca Domestic Architectural Groups
While Sanders (1981) description of the composition and arrangement of
archaeological Maya domestic compounds appears similar to those found at Copan,
Ceren, and among the modem Chord, the organization of ethnographic Lenca
household level structures differs from this model. Stone (1948) does not mention
separate storage structures to support Lenca households. Instead, she notes that
maize is piled to the ceiling in a comer of their domiciles (Stone 1948:207-208).
In addition to lacking
Table 5.1. Breakdown of structures at Ceren and
bodegas, Stone (1948:206, CoPdn by inferred Emotions, showing mean
areas (m2) of each based on platform size.
208) also infers that Lenca
Structure type Number Mean Area Range
household structures do not Cerfn
Domicile 2 18.5 11.5-24.8
include a separate kitchen Kitchen Storage 1 3 17.2 12.1 8.4-16
Other 5 20.7 6-40
facility like those found at Copan
Domicile 15 36.1 13.9-66
Domicilc/storage 1 154
Ceren. Rather, in colder Dotnicike/kitcben 2 ? 7
Domicile/kilchen/storage 2 25.8 22.5-29
regions food is most often Kitchen 1 25.5 _
Kitchen/ttorage 3 15.3 12.6-20.4
prepared on a three-stone From Webster et al (j 997.54).
hearth which is located in
the center of the domicile. Elsewhere, the hearth is often situated in a comer, or by a
side wall, and on rare occasions clay ovens are found outside of the domestic
structure, either incorporated into a house wall or built separately. Alternately, Stone

(1948:208) notes that in some Lenca settlements porches at the rear of domestic
structures are used as kitchens.
In all, the architectural makeup of Lenca domestic compounds does not
correspond with those found at either Ceren, Copan, or among the modem Chorti. In
each instance the functions of storage and food preparation are served but important
differences are evident in the manner in which domestic structures are created and
used to accomplish these tasks. Of special note is the apparent absence of bodegas
and separate cooking facilities among the Lenca and, as a consequence, their ability
to delimit patio areas similar to those found at Ceren. Also of note is the lack of
evidence for cooking inside either of the excavated domiciles at Ceren (Webster et
al. 1997:52). Rather, Structures 11 and 16 (Fig. 4.3) have been identified as separate
kitchens associated with Households 1 and 3 at this site (Beaudry-Corbett et al.
2002:51-53; Calvin 2002:72-73).
Xinca Domestic Architectural Groups
Like that of the Lenca, the arrangement of Xinca household structures also
appears to vary from the clusters of buildings found at Ceren, Copan, and among the
ethnographic Chorti. In referring back to conquest period documents authored by
Cortes and Larraz, Busto Rodriguezs (1965:10) description of Xinca domestic
architecture at Atiquipaque does not imply household structures constructed around
patios. Rather, the poor huts of the people are scattered and confused among the
trees and bushes (translation by author). Additionally, Xinca cooking facilities

were located on, and occupied half of the porches that were constructed at the front
of their domiciles (Busto Rodriguez 1965:12). If the ethnohistoric documents
employed in Busto Rodriguezs (1965) study are correct, unlike the Classic Period
occupants of Ceren the Xinca did not construct multiple domestic structures that
served separate functions and defined a patio area.
On the other hand however, in a brief account of a visit to the town of
Guazacapan, Shook (1975) describes the arrangement of ethnographic Xinca
domestic structures quite differently than Busto Rodriguez (1965). Shook (1975:16)
reports that within an indigenous barrio of the town household compounds were
defined by stone walls that encompassed several houses, pig pens, fruit trees, etc.
Though irregularly placed and separated from neighbors by narrow paths, at least
some of these compounds were placed close enough together to allow for direct
communication from one familys yard to another. Stone stairs were also present to
allow access to the various terrace levels.
While Shook (1975) does not comment on the layout of Xinca structures within
their respective compounds, it can be inferred that (unless orchards were mistaken
for forests) these buildings were not scattered among the trees as reported in
Conquest Period documents (Busto Rodriguez 1965:10). This inference is further
reinforced by an obvious tendency toward the grouping of structures detailed on
maps provided by Feldman (1975:6, 8) and Shook (1975:15) of what, by the height

and areal dimensions of the noted mounds, appear to be Xinca civic-ceremonial
Despite the apparent inconsistencies between Busto Rodriguezs (1965) and
Shooks (1975) accounts of the Xinca, two factors concerning the layout of their
household structures appear to differentiate them from those found at Ceren. The
first, and most important, is the Xinca use of their front porches as cooking facilities
rather constructing separate kitchen facilities. This behavior is inconsistent with the
kitchens that were constituent to the domestic architecture at Ceren (Beaudry-Corbett
et al. 2002:51-53; Calvin 2002:72-73; Webster et al. 1997:52). Secondly, stone
fences like those constructed by the ethnographic Xinca are not found at Ceren.
The importance of the second difference however, must be tempered by the fact
that stone walls are not mentioned in Busto Rodriguezs (1965) ethnohistoric account
of the Xinca, and (although river cobbles would have been available) their absence at
Ceren may be a reflection of the relative presence of this natural fencing material.
Additionally, though not a feature at Copan, stone fences are constructed by the
ethnographic Chorti to enclose their domestic architectural groups and to constrain
the movement of domestic animals (Wisdom 1940:129-130). Consequently, the
stone fences erected by both the ethnographic Xinca and Chorti may be a relatively
recent addition to their domestic architectural repertoire, perhaps as a result of the
Colonial Period introduction of large domestic animals.

The constituent structures of the domestic architectural groups at Ceren, rural
Copan, and among the ethnographic Chorti similarly consist of domiciles, bodegas,
and separate kitchens that define a patio areas. Such is not the case however, with
the Lenca and Xinca ethnic groups. Rather than the construction and use of a
separate kitchen structure, the Lenca prepare their food within their domiciles or, on
rare occasions, on clay ovens that are most often placed along one of its exterior
walls. Additionally, Stone (1948) fails to mention the presence and use of separate
storage structures among the Lenca. Instead, a portion of the domicile is used for
bulk storage of maize. As a consequence, a patio area defined by a domicile,
bodega, and kitchen, like those found at Ceren, is not indicated for the ethnic Lenca.
While Shooks (1975) ethnographic account of the Xinca suggests the possible
use of bodegas by this ethnic group, Busto Rodriguez (1965:12) reports that
ethnohistoric Xinca cooking facilities were constructed on their front porches. Like
the Lenca, the lack of separate Xinca kitchen structures differentiates the behaviors
of these ethnic groups from those evidenced at Ceren.
In all, the constituent structures and their spatial arrangement at Ceren and Copan
appear similar to each other, to Sanders (1981:35) description of Precolumbian
Maya domestic architectural groups, and to those found among the ethnographic
Chorti. On the other hand however, the lack of separate kitchens within Lenca and
Xinca domestic architectural groups, and the inferred absence of bodegas among the