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World Heritage Site

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Joya de Ceren

Joya de Ceren

Joya de Ceren Archaeological Site is a pre-Columbian Maya farming village that has been preserved remarkably intact after it was destroyed by volcanic ash around 600 AD.

Loma Caldera, a nearby volcano, erupted and buried the village under 14 layers of ash. The villagers were apparently able to flee in time - no bodies have been found - although they left behind utensils, ceramics, furniture, and even half-eaten food in their haste to escape. The site was discovered in 1976 by Payson Sheets, a professor of anthropology. Since then the excavation process has continued. About 70 buildings have been uncovered.

Even more important than the buildings, however, are the paleoethnobotanical remains. The low temperature of the wet ash from Loma Caldera, as well as its rapid fall, ensured the preservation of much of the plant material. Of great importance is the discovery of manioc fields, the first time manioc cultivation had been found at a New World archaeological site.

Map of Joya de Ceren


  • Cultural

Community Reviews

Lars Svendsen U.S.A. - 18-Jun-11

In 1990 I was on the Joya de Ceren archaeological team of Andrea Gerstle. There were six of us and many wonderful locals who housed us and fed us and worked with us at the site. We found the third house, in fact Jose and I found it, 15 feet down when we scooped up a fragment of what turned out to be the wall of a rammed earth house.

Magnificent site. As noted it tells a tale of life among the 'common' people.

"Certainly the American continent was far better off before the journeys of Columbus and the European takeover." Andy, How do you know this? There is nothing in the record to suggest that pre-columbian America, anywhere, was paradise. Especially in this neck of the woods.

The Maya rulers where Kings and Gods at the same time. The Spanish Kings were no longer 'Gods' but might as well have been.

When you get into the mix of it all most of the world has evolved about the same way. Because Andy, 'WE ARE ALL HUMAN AND HUMAN NATURE DOES NOT CHANGE VERY MUCH IN THE SCHEME'.

Jakey United States - 16-Dec-10

Joya de Ceren is not your average pre-columbian/Maya site -- unlike the grandeur of Tikal and the artistry of Copan, Joya de Ceren is more about how the everyday people lived.

Thus, it's definitely worth it if you're into such archaeology.

Tammy Glaser United States - 16-Oct-10

We absolutely marveled at Joya de Ceren! It truly is a jewel and must not be missed when traveling in El Salvador. My husband is Salvadoran and American and he was so proud of his country and what they have uncovered. The museum was fantastic, the tour informative, and the landscaping meticulous.

I blogged our visit plus a bunch of pictures, which do not do justice what you see in real life.

Andy USA -

I had a wonderful time at the site about ten years ago and greatly enjoyed all that there was to learn and particularly the contrast with the Mayan ceremonial cities. However, I have to disagree with Ivette, though. We have not advanced at all. On the contrary, life remains very harsh for the poor majority. The environmental and social degradation a bus ride away in San Salvador with many people living in absolute misery is a vivid reminder of this. Certainly the American continent was far better off before the journeys of Columbus and the European takeover.

Luis Tejada USA -

this is one of the most amazing sites you have never heard of. It shows aspects of the lives of people in a Pre-Colombus Latin America. Unfortunetly it has not been as well conserved as other sites. Joya de Ceren is a must if you are serious about archaeology

Ivette El Salvador -

Going to this place was a great experience, because Iwas able to know how the PIPILES lived and wow how much we have advanced

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Community Rating

Community Rating 3.13. Based on 4 votes.

Site Info

Full name: Joya de Ceren Archaeological Site

Unesco ID: 675

Inscribed: 1993

Type: Cultural

Criteria: 3   4  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 1993 - Inscribed 


The site has 1 locations.

  • Joya de Ceren


The site has 12 connections.



  • Mayan culture
  • Historical Food Remains: ICOMOS : "the objects recovered constitute a virtual inventory of their contents at the moment of eruption .... and a variety of foods ncluding maize, beans, chilis and cocoa beans"



  • Dubbed as another WHS: Pompeii of the Americas
  • Recently discovered: The site was discovered during the construction of government grain-storage silos in 1976, when a clay-built structure was exposed by a bulldozer. Excavation were carried out under the direction of Dr Payson D. Sheets (University of Colorado) in 1978 and 1980, but were interrupted by civil war. They were resumed in 1988 and have been continuing since that time." - AB Document
  • First inscriptions: El Salvador 1993
  • Excavated by American Universities: Colorado University
  • Foreigner prices: $1 "Salvadorians and Central Americans" $3 - foreigners

World Heritage Process