The Social Implications of Ceramic Variability at a 19th Century Sugar Hacienda

sugar cane fieldsAs opportunities unfolded, I ended up specializing in 19th century imported Britishwares at Illinois State University under the mentorship of Dr. Kathryn Sampeck, Dr. Elizabeth Scott, and Dr. Jim Skibo. Due to my cursory experience with high school and college-level spanish courses, I chose to analyze a collection of ceramics from the Sonsonate region of Western El Salvador. Below is a brief overview of my ideas and findings, which I hope to expand and explore through my dissertation at the College of William and Mary.tortillas1

The goal of this thesis was to capture a snapshot of life on a sugar hacienda in the 19th century. The hacienda has been explored archaeologically and historically in Ecuador, California, Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil, Jamaica, and Peru (Alexander 2003; Barrett 1970; Chevalier 1963; Delle 2008; Dunn 1972; Jensen 1955; Keith 1977; Lauria-Santiago 1999; Lindo-Fuentes 1990; Lyons 2006; Meyers 2005; Monaghan et al. 2003; Wolf and Mintz 1957). Researchers “have been attracted to this topic, because the era of hacienda expansion in Latin America was a critical period of economic and social transition” (Alexander 1997:331). These are my observations on the years leading up to La Matanza (The Massacre), a 1932 Salvadoran peasant uprising in western El Salvador that resulted in the slaughter of thousands of Salvadoran people, which concentrates on local patterns and local individuals. This research has the potential to open up a new level of historical research in western El Salvador.

hacienda Ariete

Contexts of Hacienda Ariete

el salvador
Large estates, called haciendas, dominated the Latin American countryside beginning in the colonial period through the twentieth-century and played an important historical role in shaping social, economic, and political systems (Lyons 2006). Actually, haciendas still dominate the countryside, though agrarian reform has affected them in some cases, like converting them to large, communally-held haciendas or for-profit bed and breakfasts. I examined the social organization through a systematic analysis of ceramic variability and a study of spatial distribution. I explored theories of agency, free will and authoritarian constraint, consumerism and spatial analysis, and landscape within a multiscalar approach.annular

I analyzed the 687 imported British ware and 885 lead-glazed European-style redware sherds from 18 contexts. The British wares were imported into the country and accordingly these ceramics were probably higher priced than local wares. This inflated price and the constraints of international trade networks would presumably have limited access to these ceramics. The lead-glazed redware found on the hacienda was abundant, suggesting that it may have been locally produced and seems to have been easily accessible, as all people living in the area show evidence of access to these goods. The 18 contexts were delineated into zones and subzones based on extant architectural remains and interviews with local residents. I conducted the ceramic analysis while considering whole vessels with a minimum vessel count for the vessels by grouping the sherds together that were most likely from the same vessel based on ware, form, and decoration.


There are three chronological divisions that appear to designate contemporaneous settlements. The structural hierarchy of social power woven throughout the strata of owners, overseers, managers and laborers on the hacienda is clearly evident in the ceramic discrepancies and distribution on and around the hacienda. The three chronological grouping on the hacienda help clarify the specific patterns of consumption in each region’s ceramic assemblage. There was evidence of class corroboration, like in the examples of Ariete and Quequeisquillo Norte contexts, where the same ceramic ware, vessel form, decoration and decorative motifs were chosen or passed down through family by the people in this area. This helped secure the social, political and economic position of these individuals at the top of the hacienda system. If there was a time lag between similar patterns, the evidence pointed towards emulation, as in the cases of San Antonio, Los Caminos and Los Obreros contexts. These contexts exhibited similar ceramic trends, but about thirty years after they first appeared on the hacienda.  In addition, there were some people who had high numbers of whitewares throughout these chronological periods, which indicates a class boundary with those who had low numbers of whitewares throughout the chronological periods.

Artifacts carry meaning. The hacienda ceramics were both utilitarian and symbolic (Orser 2005). This research should be considered a preliminary exploration of social power and identity at a nineteenth century sugar hacienda in Western El Salvador. The simple yet extensive organization of labor at this sugar hacienda was underscored by a complex set of power relations.

Works Cited

Alexander, Rani T.
1997 Haciendas and Economic Change in Yucatán: Entrepreneurial Strategies in the Parroquia de Yaxcabá, 1775-1850. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 4(3/4):331-351.

2003 Introduction: Haciendas and Agrarian Change in Rural Mesoamerica. Ethnohistory 50(1):3-14.

Barrett, Ward
1970 The Sugar Hacienda of the Marqueses Del Valle. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Chevalier, François
1963 Land and Society in Colonial Mexico: The Great Hacienda. University of California
Press, Berkeley.

Delle, James A.
2008 An Archaeology of Modernity in Colonial Jamaica. Archaeologies 4(1):87-109.

Dunn, Richard S.
1972 Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

Jensen, Amy Elizabeth
1955 Guatemala: A Historical Survey. Exposition Press, New York.

Keith, Robert G. (editor)
1977 Haciendas and Plantations in Latin American History. Holmes and Meier Publishers, Inc., New York.

Lauria-Santiago, Aldo
1995 Historical Research and Sources on El Salvador. Latin American Research Review

Lindo-Fuentes, Héctor
1990 Weak Foundations: The Economy of El Salvador in the Nineteenth Century. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Lyons, Barry J.
2006 Remembering the Hacienda: Religion, Authority, and Social Change in Highland
Ecuador. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Meyers, Allan D.
2005 Material Expressions of Social Inequality on a Porfirian Sugar Hacienda in Yucatán, Mexico. Historical Archaeology 39(4):112-137.

Monaghan, John, Arthur Joyce, and Ronald Spores
2003 Transformations of the Indigenous Cacicazgo in the Nineteenth Century. Ethnohistory 50(1):131-150.

Orser, Charles
2005 Symbolic Violence, Resistance and the Vectors of Improvement in Early Nineteenth Century Ireland. World Archaeology 37(3):392-407.

Wolf, Eric and Sidney Mintz
1957 Haciendas and Plantations in Middle America and the Antilles. Social and Economic Studies 6:380-411.

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