Joya de Cerén (Jewel of Cerén in the Spanish language) is an archaeological site in La Libertad Department, El Salvador featuring a pre-Columbian Maya farming village preserved remarkably intact under layers of volcanic ash. It is often referred to as the "Pompeii of the Americas" in comparison to the famous Ancient Roman ruins.
A small farming community inhabited as early as 900 BC, Cerén was on the southeast edge of the Maya cultural area. Cerén was evacuated in AD 250 due to the eruption of the Ilopango volcano but was repopulated no earlier than the year 400 and was, at the time of its final evacuation, a tributary to nearby San Andrés.
Around the year 590, Loma Caldera, another 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 at the University of Colorado at Boulder. 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. Although the manioc had long since decomposed, researchers created plaster casts by filling the resulting hollows in the ash. The farmers had planted the manioc "just hours" before the eruption.
Cerén was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.