Do you need to see 
a map of Guatemala
to locate Santa Rosa?


SAP '96. or go to SAP '97
or go to new GIS project for La Milpa, Belize


The coast of Santa Rosa is a region of Guatemala that was virtually unknown to archaeologists. The Santa Rosa Project, as the first comprehensive regional study, started in 1995 in collaboration with the Guatemalan Instituto de Antropologia e Historia (IDAEH)and with funding from the National Geographic Society, National Science Foundation, and Boston University research grants through Prof. Norman Hammond. The newly discovered prehistoric settlements lie within a 1000 km2 area of the coast between the steep volcanic slopes and the Pacific Ocean shores, not far from the national border with El Salvador. During the '95 and '96 field seasons the SAP crews have mapped 54 new sites. Among these, is the city of La Maquina (Middle Classic period, A.D. 450-700) . One of the largest sites in Southern Guatemala, surrounded by a residential area of about 10km2 (map).
The earliest settlement was found in the coastal lagoon of Chiquiuitan 
It dates to about1300 B.C. It is among the earliest villages 
in Mesoamerica 

see also sequence of development at Chiquiuitan.

Several ceremonial centers emerged in Santa Rosa during the Middle and Late Preclassic periods. Ujuxte is a Late Preclassic (400 B.C.- A.D. 200) site in which we made a great discovery. In its main plaza there are 9 stelae and five altars oriented astronomically. It is a unique example of stela-altar religious complex in this part of Guatemala that had survived intact and undetected in spite of its location in a cultivated field near the town.

Five of the stelae and associated altars are placed at the four ends of the plaza in apparent astronomical orientation (aligned with equinox at 90 degrees)

Ujuxte map with stelae locations

view the in situ monuments after excavation::

  • Western stela 5 and altar
  • Eastern stelae 4,3 and altars
  • Southern stela 8 and altar



    Twenty km further down towards the Ocean we found a second Late Preclassic center, Nueve Cerros. It has nine tall pyramids (10 m high) and long structures on the east side in an arrangement reminiscent of other known Preclassic astronomical complexes.

    aerial view of Late Preclassic Nueve Cerros

    The new archaeological map of Santa Rosa
    (but see also new map of  Jutiapa from the SAP97 season)

    Santa Rosa's coast seen from space
    (Landsat5 TM image of 12/18/89)
    The following band/color combination:
    Red=band 7, green=band 4, blue=band 2
    was used to highlight soil types and vegetation cover.
    Middle Classic sites are shown in black.

    The method used for site discovery relies on information provided by the local population and a Trimble Co. GPS supplemented by a systematic survey program along intra-site transects. Several excavations at some of the most important sites have provided the chronological framework for the 3000 years of history of culture development in this region. Who were the people of Santa Rosa? This question has often been the subject of much speculation. For the time being, best candidates are the Maya, the Xinca, and the Pipil. All these may have lived on the Santa Rosa coast at different times and also lived in neighboring areas of the coast and the highlands of Guatemala. We hope that our analysis will help determine cultural affiliations for each era of preshistory.

    The crew of the 1996 season was composed by Boston University archaeologists Dr. Laura J. Kosakowsky (ceramics), Ben Thomas (excavations), Ann-Eliza Lewis (historical excavations), Marc Wolf (survey and excavation), John Schultz (excavations), and Francisco Estrada Belli (project director). In 1995, Damian Blank, Ellie Harrison, and Stefanie Teufel (Bonn University) participated in the survey.

    Snapshots of the 1996 crew

    Survey in 1997


    We thank the National Geographic Society, National Science Foundations, and Boston University through Prof. Hammond for funding our field work. We thank the IDAEH of Guatemala for allowing us to work in Santa Rosa. Trimble Navigation assisted donating a Scoutmaster GPS receiver. Goodyear Tire Co. provided a set of tires for our vehicle, and Continental Airlines shipped our equipment free of charge. In Guatemala, we benefited from the hospitality of the CEMA of University of San Carlos, the Medrano family, and Mr. Pineda. Servicargo S.A. of Mr. Martin Maldonado provided office and storage space. A special thanks to Mr. Julio Maldonado for his contributions. Finally, we are immensely grateful to all Santa Rosa landowners who have welcomed us on their property.

    For more information on this page and the Santa Rosa Project of 1997 send email to Francisco at:

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    Last updated on Jan 20, 2000