Ceren
Structures at Ceren were buried in up to 17ft of ash over a period of several days, freezing the 1,400-year-old village in timeUniversity of Colorado

Analysis of a Maya village in El Salvador which remained extremely well preserved by a blanket of volcanic ash 1,400 years ago has revealed that the farmers who resided there were virtually undisturbed by the royalty who ruled over the valley. A University of Colorado Boulder study found archaeological evidence of "significant interactions" between families, village elders, craftspeople and specialty maintenance workers in the village of Ceren.

Such has been the preservation of the village, due to a blast of toxic gas and a 17ft layer of ash falling over several days because of an eruption at the nearby Loma Caldera volcano in 660AD, that experts have even been able to note marks of finger swipes in ceramic bowls which have been found in the village, which was first discovered in 1978.

"This is the first clear window anyone has had on the daily activities and the quality of life of Maya commoners back then," said Payson Sheets, director of the excavation. "At Ceren we found virtually no influence and certainly no control by the elites."

The researchers conclude that Ceren would be home to around 200 people in its day, who fled south when the volcano erupted. They add that the only relationship that the commoners would have had with the elite was within the marketplace, and even then they would have chosen whether they wanted to do business with them, according to the research published in Latin American Antiquity.

"The Ceren people could have chosen to do business at about a dozen different marketplaces in the region," said Sheets. "If they thought the elites were charging too much at one marketplace, they were free to vote with their feet and go to another."

The team has so far excavated 12 buildings in what has been dubbed the "New World Pompeii", which includes living quarters, storehouses, workshops, kitchens, religious buildings and even a community sauna. However, no bodies have yet to have been found, which led them to the conclusion that the villagers fled.