Payson Sheets
(Ph.D. • University of Pennsylvania • 1974)


by appointment

My research focuses on the ancient societies of Mesoamerica and lower Central America.  I am particularly interested in how societies, from egalitarian to complex, react to the sudden massive stresses of explosive volcanic eruptions. And I am exploring commoner agency, as Maya at Ceren led their rich lives largely beyond elite control. And the Arenal area residents, members of egalitarian societies, inadvertently entrenched the paths that connected villages with cemeteries, which became a valued cultural standard. As both Ceren in El Salvador and Arenal in Costa Rica are deeply buried by volcanic ash layers, we have been developing remote sensing techniques from aircraft and satellites, and geophysical techniques for exploring many meters below the present ground surface. Recently we have discovered that the Maya were cultivating a root crop, manioc, which outproduces maize by about 15 times, in carbohydrates per unit area.

May 2018 article from BBC Mundo, Joya de Cerén, el extraordinario sitio precolombino en el El Salvador que fue cubierto por la erupción de un volcán hace 1.400 años y sigue intacto

Selected Publications:

  • 2021: Sheets, P., & Mahoney, R. The Soundscape in the Replica of the Ceren Temazcal. Ancient Mesoamerica, pp. 1-15. Cambridge University Press. PDF
  • 2021: Edited by Nancy Gonlin and David  Reed. "The Sounds in the Dark of the Temazcal at Ceren, El Salvador." In Night and Darkness in Ancient Mesoamerica, pp. 203-228. University Press of Colorado, Louisville. PDF
  • 2020: Edited by Felix Riede, and Payson Sheets. "Going Forward by Looking Back : Archaeological Perspectives on Socio-Ecological Crisis, Response, and Collapse," Berghahn Books, Incorporated. PDF
  • 2020: "Prospects and Pitfalls in Integrating Volcanology and Archaeology: A Review." Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 401 (2020). PDF
  • 2020: "Landscape Management and Polyculture in the Ancient Gardens and Fields at Joya de Cerén, El Salvador." Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 59 (2020).  PDF
  • 2019: Radiocarbon and geologic evidence reveal Ilopango volcano as source of the colossal ‘mystery’ eruption of 539/40 CE PDF
  • 2017: Identifying Plantscapes at Joya de Ceren. PDF
  • 2017: Exploring Culinary Practices through GIS Modeling at Joya de Ceren. PDF
  • 2013: “Joya de Ceren libro 2013”. PDF
  • 2013: El Sacbe Y Los Campos Agrícolas En Joya De Cerén, El Salvador Reporte De La Temporada De Investigación 2013. PDF
  • 2013: Report of the 2013 Research: The Sacbe and Agricultural Fields at Joya De Ceren, El Salvador. PDF
  • 2012: “Ancient Manioc Agriculture South of the Ceren Village, El Salvador.” Latin American Antiquity 23(3):259-281. PDF
  • 2012: Surviving Sudden Environmental Change, Answers from Archaeology. University Press of Colorado. Co-edited with Jago Cooper. PDF
  • 2011: “Pilgrimages and Persistent Social Memory in Spite of Volcanic Disasters in the Arenal Area, Costa Rica.” Ancient Mesoamerica 22:425-435. PDF
  • 2011: “Manioc Cultivation at Cerén, El Salvador: Occasional Kitchen Garden Plant or Staple Crop?” Ancient Mesoamerica 22:1-11. PDF
  • 2011: Report of the Summer 2011 Maya Agriculture Project: South of the Cerén Site, El Salvador. PDF
  • 2009: Report of the 2009 Maya Agriculture Project, South of Joya de Cerén, El Salvador. PDF
  • 2009: Proyecto Agricultura Maya Al Sur De Joya De Ceren, El Salvador, Temporada 2009. PDF
  • 2009: “Contributions of Geoarchaeology to Mesoamerican Studies.” Ancient Mesoamerica 20:205-209. PDF
  • 2009: “When the Construction of Meaning Preceded the Meaning of Construction: From Footpaths to Monumental Entrances in Ancient Costa Rica”. In Clark Erickson, James Snead and Andrew Darling Ed. Landscapes of Movement. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. PDF
  • 2009: “Who Were Those Classic Period Immigrants into the Zapotitán Valley, El Salvador?” In Brent E. Metz, Cameron L. McNeil and Kerry M. Hull Eds. The Ch’orti’ Maya Area Past and Present. University Press of Florida. PDF
  • 2008: “Armageddon to the Garden of Eden: Explosive Volcanic Eruptions and Societal Resilience in Ancient Middle America: in Central America and Mesoamerica, Ed. Daniel Sandweiss, pp. 177-196. Washington DC: Dunbarton Oaks. PDF
  • 2007: “Creating and Perpetuating Social Memory Across the Ancient Costa Rican Landscape”. In James Wiseman and Farouk El-Baz Eds. Remote Sensing in Archaeology. Springer Publications. With Thomas L. Sever. PDF
  • 2006: The Ceren Site: An Ancient Village in Central America Buried by Volcanic Ash. Thomson Learning. Second Edition. PDF
  • 2002: “Household Production of Extra-Household Ritual at the Cerén Site, El Salvador”. In Patricia Plunket Ed. Domestic Ritual in Ancient Mesoamerica. The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles. With Linda A. Brown and Scott E. Simmons. PDF
  • 2002: Before the Volcano Erupted: The Ancient Ceren village in Central America. University of Texas Press, Austin. Edited, 22 chapters.
  • 2002: CD-ROM: An Intractive Guide to Ancient Ceren, Before the Volcano Erupted. With Jen Lewin, Mark Ehrhardt, and Mark Gross.
  • 2002: “Warfare in Ancient Mesoamerica” In K. Brown Ed. Ancient Mesoamerican Warfare. Altamira, CA.
  • 2001: “The Material Correlates of Village Ceremony: Two Ritual Structures at the Cerén Site, El Salvador”. In Penelope Ballard Drooker Ed. Fleeting Identities, Perishable Material Culture in Archaeological Research. Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University Carbondale. With Linda A. Brown. PDF
  • 2001: “Volcanism, ecology, and culture: A reassessment of the Volcan Ilopango TBJ eruption in the Southern Maya Realm.” Latin American Antiquity 12:1: 25-44. With Robert Dull and John Southon. PDF
  • 1996: Report of 1996 Research at Ceren, El Salvador, edited by Payson Sheets. PDF
  • 1994: Archaeology, Volcanism and Remote Sensing in the Arenal Region, Costa Rica. University of Texas Press, Austin. With Brian McKee (2nd Co-Editor).
  • 1993: Report of 1993 Research at Ceren, El Salvador, edited by Payson Sheets. PDF
  • 1992: Report of 1992 Research at Ceren, El Salvador, edited by Payson Sheets. PDF
  • 1991: Archaeology of Pacific Nicaragua, 2nd author, with Fred Lange. University of New Mexico Press.
  • 1990: “Household Archaeology at Ceren, El Salvador.” Ancient Mesoamerica 1:81-90. PDF
  • 1990: Report of 1990 Research at Ceren, El Salvador, edited by Payson Sheets. PDF
  • 1989: Report of 1989 Research at Ceren, El Salvador, edited by Payson Sheets. PDF
  • 1983: Archeology and Volcanism in Central America: The Zapotitan Valley of El Salvador, Edited by Payson Sheets.  Thirteen chapters, 6 appendices, 307 pp. Austin: University of Texas Press. PDF
  • 1979: Volcanic Activity and Human Ecology. Co-edited with Donald Grayson. Academic Press, New York. Twenty chapters, 700 pages.
  • 1975 : Report of the 1975 Research of the Ilopango Volcano and the Maya Protoclassic Project in El Salvador. edited by Payson Sheets, PDF
  • 1975 :Behavioral Analysis of the Structure of a Prehistoric Mesoamerican Industry. Current Anthropology 16:369-391.