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article imageColorado researchers discover ancient Maya road

By Jane Fazackarley     Oct 7, 2011 in World
Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder carrying out an excavation of a Maya village in El Salvador have uncovered an ancient road. Researchers say it could have been used to escape from the town following a volcanic eruption.
The white road, which seems to lead to and from the town, is called a "sacbe", and researchers describe the town as being "frozen in time by a blanket of ash”. The Maya village was covered by volcanic ash 1,400 years ago, according to researchers.
The white road measures approximately 6 feet across and was formed by volcanic ash from an earlier eruption, according to Professor Payson Sheets of CU-Bolder; Sheets discovered the ancient farming village, which is known as Ceren, in 1978.
The village of Ceren was previously evacuated after a first volcanic eruption. Some time later, when the village had been repopulated, another eruption, this time from the Loma Caldera volcano covered the village in layers of white ash, cinders and lava bombs. Radiocarbon data suggest the second volcanic eruption happened in approximately A.D. 630. Professor Sheets says that he believes the eruption hit the village at approximately 7.00pm on an August evening as the villagers gathered for a ceremony, and that the recently discovered road may have been used by villagers to flee the volcanic ash which came from the Loma Caldera volcano.
Commenting in a press release, Professor Sheets said:
"How far they might have gotten, I don't know."
"It would have been a footrace. I think it is very likely we will find bodies as we follow the sacbe southward in future excavations." To date, no human remains have been found at the village."
"We know there was a celebration going on when the eruption hit."
"And we've found no evidence of anyone going back to their houses, gathering up valuables, and fleeing, because all the household doors were tied shut. We think people may have left the plaza and run south, possibly on the sacbe, because the danger was to the north."
The sacbe was discovered when the team were digging a test pit through 17 feet of volcanic ash. It had canals of water running on either side of it and the uncovering of the road is significant as researchers say that it “is the first ever discovered at a Maya archaeology site that was built without bordering paving stones”. The sacbe seems to lead to two Ceren ceremonial structures which stand less than 100 feet away; the buildings were uncovered by researchers in 1991 by a team led by Professor Sheets.
Commenting on the discovery in a press release press release, Professor Sheets said:
"Until our discovery, these roads were only known from the Yucatan area in Mexico and all were built with stone linings, which generally preserved well.”
"It took the unusual preservation at Ceren to tell us the Maya also made them without stone. I'd like to say we saw some anomaly in the ground-penetrating radar data that guided us to the Ceren sacbe, but that was not the case. This was a complete surprise."
In a copy of a report forward to me from Professor Sheets, it is explained that the latest season of research, which began in June 2011, is part of the Maya Agricultural Project. The project first started in 2007 and aimed to uncover a greater understanding of how agriculture worked in the ancient village.
The sacbe is just one of many discoveries that the researcher team have discovered. The excavation has also uncovered 12 buildings which included living quarters, religious buildings and a community sauna.
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