If someone asked me seven years ago where I would be today, I would never have guessed El Salvador.
Early in my academic career, El Salvador was emerging from twelve years of civil war (1979-1992). It was a location far removed from my studies, that is until I had the immense pleasure of working with Dr. Kathryn Sampeck at Illinois State University. I received a masters degree in historical archaeology through the focused study of 19th century ceramics from western El Salvador. These materials were the result of fieldwork conducted by Dr. Sampeck in 1994 and 1995, when the government was building up the infrastructure of the country. I spent the subsequent five years delving deep into the history of the early modern era, the Republic Period of El Salvador. This was a time of rapid industrialization, commercialization, and politicization. I used the study of especially the British-imported ceramics as a way to access the past and provide an alternative and comparative line of evidence to historical sources. There were and still are almost no historical archaeologists, with the exception of Dr. Sampeck, Mtro. José Heriberto Erquicia, and Roberto Gallardo, studying the late colonial and early republic periods of Salvadoreño history.
I mentioned Roberto Gallardo. He is an impressive force of Salvadoran historical archaeology (terrestrial and maritime) at the Museo Nacional de Antropología Dr. David J. Guzmán.
When beginning my studies at the College of William and Mary, I did so on the proposal of expanding my master’s thesis. With the help of Dr. Sampeck and Don Roberto, it took about two years to secure funding and focus my doctoral studies, but here I am, nose deep into piles of 19th century ceramics from the pacific Port of Acajutla. Each day I begin my morning with the energizing aroma of coffee from my hostel. I then trek down the street, past the alluring sizzle of pupusas from vendors (yes, sometimes I can’t resist and buy a bag for lunch). The museum staff is warm and welcoming and allows me, from 8am to 4pm, to use their space to methodically weight, measure, photograph, and record the approximately 6,000 artifacts. There are an additional two sites–one in Santa Tecla and one from the “White House” in San Salvador–I am eager to incorporate into future studies. This past Saturday Roberto and I spoke to a group of intellectuals about the role of maritime commerce in the mid-1800s and the preliminary results of this week’s analysis sponsored by the organization of Academia Salvadoreña de la Historia. I feel it is of utmost importance to keep the work I produce accessible to those desiring to learn about this period in history within and outside of El Salvador.
I know you have been waiting for the big reveal, the tension is palpable. Here is a glimpse at the actual materials I have been working with and some of my initial observations. Although I am recording all the materials including glass, metal, bone, shell, and construction materials, my main objective is the focused analysis of the ceramics. There are three main categories of ceramics; 1) the imported refined wares (like porcelain, whiteware, and stoneware); 2) the less refined imported wares (redware and olive jar); 3) and the locally produced wares (which could also include ceramics that fall within the redware category, perhaps making this category one of the most intriguing). Based on the data from my master’s thesis, I have just this past week identified two kinds of decorated imported refined ceramics that appear in both assemblages (Puerto Vieja de Acajutla and Hacienda Ariete) providing tangible proof connecting the port to the inland more rural populations. There is a broad range of ceramic wares, vessels forms (like pitchers, plates, cups, and platters to name a few), and decorations that make this assemblage deeply informative. I look forward to two more weeks of discovering, recording, and analyzing what these materials may say about the historical development of El Salvador.