The Disaster at Las Marías

View from Pyramid In an unnecessary tragedy, Las Marías, one of the largest and best preserved archaeological sites in El Salvador, slipped through the hands of the government. Its lands were owned by the agrarian reform agency, a time in which the site center, at least, could have been set aside as protected park land. But now Las Marías has been partitioned in numerous parcels. The site is being damaged by fence building and the intensification of farming and faces imminent destruction by the bulldozing of roads to turn the area into a rural subdivision. Paul Amaroli and Matilde Gil are now working frantically at Las Marías. With the help of local people, who themselves would like to see the site preserved, they are mapping and surveying as fast as they can. This is complicated not only by multiple ownership of the many small parcels into which Las Marías has been divided, but also by the early arrival of the rainy season. This has meant an explosive growth of obscuring vegetation as well as the planted areas being off limits to archaeologists. FUNDAR is trying to convince Concultura to act, even though considerable damage has already been done to the site, and to buy the main ceremonial section of Las Marías to preserve this small piece of El Salvador’s prehispanic heritage.

The fate of Las Marías is nowhere more apparent than in this view from the (now partitioned) main pyramid. A tractor plows one of the main plazas, hitting and destroying smaller buildings within the plaza area. Numbers of non-monumental structures have already been destroyed and the process of destruction is escalating as farmers seek to clear fields for crops, as local developers want to bulldoze roads through the site to create a rural subdivision, and as local antiquities dealers, many with ties to United States dealers, incite the famers to look for burials and offerings and to loot them for salable antiquities. All of this could have been avoided.


The main pyramid at Las Marías now belongs to two different farmers. The fence divides their lands. Here the mapping crew and onlookers prepare to set up a datum for the Las Marías site map now in progress. On the right a fence post set in the pyramid is surrounded by the remains of a disturbed burial or offering.


Left: A local resident carrying a burial urn discovered during farming activities. Not a single Guazapa Phase burial has been discovered by archaeologists and excavated scientifically. Center: A Mazapanstyle figurine found in a disturbed urn burial at Las Marías. This type of flat figurine links Cihuatán to the central Mexican sites of Teotihuacán and Tula. Right: Side view of a ceramic toad from a burial recently disturbed during farming activities. These toad figures are typical of Las Marías and other Guazapa Phase sites.


This house belonging to a local farmer is located at the side of a major ceremonial platform. Clearing to level the family’s yard uncovered a major offering of effigy bottles in the shape of Tlaloc and toad figurines. On the right one of the Tlaloc bottles from the offering. The depiction of Tlaloc as a human wearing a mask is somewhat unusual.


Cache encountered by the local homeowner. The offering includes ceramic effigy bottles depicting Tlaloc, toad figurines, and a badly damaged serpent figurine.


An as yet undisturbed ceremonial platform at Las Marías shows what might still be preserved.

All photos by Paul Amaroli.


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