Santa María

Part of the Cerron Grande lake The large Early Postclassic site of Santa María is now inundated by the waters of the lake formed by the 5th of November Dam on the Lempa River. This site was briefly investigated in 1976 by William Fowler, now of Vanderbilt University, and Elsa Margarita Solís A., then with the National Museum of El Salvador (1). They note that they did not locate many Postclassic sites within the inundation zone and that, apart from Santa María, all were of a type they refer to as an "isolated temple", that is a single pyramidal platform without much evidence of a resident population around it. They speculate that these might have served for the devotions of travelers or that in some cases they might have been outposts for a military advance.

Map of Central Santa Maria Santa María was located some 16 km east-northeast of Cihuatán on the south bank of the Tamulasco River, a tributary of the Lempa. This is the extreme east of the Valley of the Lempa and as Cihuatán is in the extreme south, this suggests that both urban centers were involved in controlling traffic and trade between the several ethnic groups of the area (Maya, Chorotega, Nahua, etc.).

The site was located on a wide flat terrace of the river. The center portion of the site seems to have covered an area of at least 3.6 km. square, with related domestic structures scattered in a 5 km area around the site. The pattern of residence does not seem to be as dense as that of Cihuatán, but only visible (i.e. 18+ cm. in height) platforms were noted and excavation at Cihuatán has shown that as many as 2/3 of all domestic structures are not visible on the surface.

Santa María's main area of monumental architecture consists of three groups of platforms of different types. The first group, locally called "Portrero de García" (Garcia's Pasture), had 4 platforms in an east-west line. One of these was excavated and was shown to be a T-shaped platform identical to one of the ceremonial platforms associated with the North Ball Court at Cihuatán. Group B, "La Lima" was a group of platforms, some forming small groups around plazas to the south of Garcías Pasture and the final group, located on a low artificial platform some 100 x 150m on a side (Las Lajas) consisted of a high "pyramid" of 6 stages and the ball court. All ceremonial architecture was constructed of clay and rubble fill with a surface of volcanic tuff blocks. The buildings on top were of wattle and daub with thatch roofs. All were burned in the final conflagration.

Tlaloc jar
Tlaloc jar from an unknown Guazapa Phase site.
The associated artifacts were identical to those of Cihuatán, especially the Las Lajas Coarse ware giant incense burners, large clay felines and Tlaloc jars. A zone of obsidian working on a large scale was located to the north of the main ceremonial structures.

It is unfortunate that Santa María was not subject to more intensive exploration prior to its destruction by the waters of the Cerrón Grande. It seems to be the largest of the known satellites of Cihuatán, being at least as big as Las Marías and of a similar layout. Santa María also seems to have been burned in the same manner as Cihuatán, with the incense burners broken on the platform stairs or in front of the platforms.

Map after Figure 2 in William R. Fowler Jr. and E. Margarita Solís "El Mapa de Santa María: Un Sitio Postclásico de la Región Cerrón Grande" Anales del Museo Nacional "David J. Guzmán" 50, pp. 13-20, 1977, San Salvador. Lake photograph by Karen Olsen Bruhns; artifact photograph by Paul Amaroli

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