Preliminary Report
The First Field Season of the Cihuatán Project

Paul Amaroli
Fabio E. Amador
14 April, 1999


The first field work of the Cihuatán Project consisted of an archaeological survey designed to yield some actual data concerning the physical extension of the site of Cihuatán. The field work of the survey was carried out by the authors between March 8 and March 26, 1999. We are now working on the analysis of the data gathered to provide a more detailed final report on the survey and its results.

Although Cihuatán is often cited as the largest archaeological site in El Salvador, until now we have had only very insufficient data concerning its actual size. As we detail in the description below, this short project was designed to give us our first approximation of the area covered by the ancient city.

This Preliminary Report is a summary of the work done and data gathered in this first field investigation of the Cihuatán Project.

The Area Covered by the Survey

Transect map
Figure 1. The four transects of the survey.
As is described below, this was a survey designed in a cruciform series of transects. This pattern of transects was chosen because it would give us a preliminary estimate of the extension of Cihuatán. The transects were oriented to the cardinal points, using the main pyramid, P-7, as the central axis and point of reference (Please look at Figure 1). The beginning of the survey in each direction started where previous maps ended. Although we had initially proposed to do 50 meter wide transects, we found it possible to actually widen these transects to 200 meters when in the field, quadrupling the coverage of our survey. The total area eventually covered was approximately 85 hectares.

The timing of the survey took into account that the period of time between February and April is optimal for archaeological survey in this region. The seasonal draught has left the fields and pastures clear and often burned while the sugar cane has been harvested and those fields are as little covered with vegetation as they ever are. This is the situation that we encountered, one which assured maximum visibility of archaeological features and materials.

For orientation in the field in addition to existing maps and plans of the pertinent areas, we used a Global Positioning System (GPS) to locate features within the transects and to assure that we covered the transects in an intensive manner. For example, Figure 2 reproduces one day's survey, that of March 26, within two segments of the West Transect, as it was recorded by the GPS.

GPS example
Figure 2. Example of the coverage registered with the GPS (two segments of the West Transect, walked March 26, 1999).

In addition we specifically surveyed three additional areas:

1. The area immediately to the north and northeast of the Western Ceremonial Center of Cihuatán, a region known as San Dieguito Hill. This was surveyed to verify the extension of the site in this region. Up to the present, San Dieguito Hill was the area of construction farthest from the monumental center of the site. It was possible to establish the continuation of the site in this direction.

2. The archaeological site of Las Pampas. This site possibly formed part of Cihuatán. It has previously been described as a site consisting of at least 5 platform mounds, but it has been subdivided and practically destroyed. The objective of our walk through of the site area—which was not exhaustive—was simply to see if there was anything left of Las Pampas which would justify future investigations. We located the mutilated remains of three platform mounds, cut by streets and house lots.

3. A sector with 3 platforms on the southeastern slope of the Cihuatán Ridge (Loma de Cihuatán), approximately 800 meters from the site house in the archaeological park. One can see one of the platforms from the highway. We were interested in locating and recording these structures because of their relative vulnerability and also because they seem to form a secondary center with monumental architecture, well apart from the two known ceremonial centers but within the area continuously covered by the cultural remains of the ancient city.

The information which has resulted from this survey permits a reasonable approximation of the actual size of Cihuatán. In general, with some exceptions, it seems correct to reaffirm that the continuous extension of cultural remains is limited to the Cihuatán Ridge. This information, in addition to serving as a general guide to future investigations at the site, once we have finished the final analysis and production of maps, can be used as a basis of implementation of means of protection and conservation of this National Monument.


The archaeological survey of these 4 transects has revealed more than 180 previously unknown ancient structures. Most of these structures are the remains of domestic units. The survey of the East Transect also resulted in the discovery of two archaeological sites to the east of the Acelhuate River, within the flat, heavily plowed sugar cane fields. Both of these sites yielded cultural materials diagnostic of the Guazapa Phase. Cihuatán is notorious in that the surface of the site generally has very little cultural material visible. This same situation was noted in most of the area surveyed, although there was a notable exception in the northern half of the South Transect.

The location of each structure of group of structures was registered provisionally with the GPS. This instrument has an variable standard error, generally expressed as approximately 15 meters. Therefore it is evident that our plan is not a real map but a provisional indication which will serve to locate structures and their density in general and which will serve as a guide to further survey and instrument mapping. The GPS measurements were translated into plans using Fugawi software.

As an example we show as Figure 3 the preliminary plan of the South Transect with the GPS data indicated. Because of the reduced scale some of the GPS points have merged into each other.
South transect Detail
Figure 3. Preliminary plan of the location of GPS points in the South Transect; these points represent structures or groups of related structures. Owing to the reduced scale that is employed here many points have overlapped and merged. The detail permits one to see the actual distribution of some of the points.


The survey was funded by donations by the Grupo TACA, the Fundación Nacional de Arqueología de El Salvador, FUNDAR, and by the authors. We gratefully acknowledge the collaboration of CONCULTURA and of their staff at Cihuatán. We would also like to especially thank Dr. Mauricio Cañas Prieto for allowing us to conduct survey on the Hacienda Pixixapa, a landholding which forms the southern sector of Cihuatán.


Back to previous page    Back to first page