Early Archaeological Investigations at Nueve Cerros
Although salt production has continued largely unabated from the collapse of Nueve Cerros, the earliest mention of the giant site surrounding the saltworks was in the late 19th century. Austrian physician Simeon Habel, hot on the trail of a rumored "lost city" still inhabited by Maya untouched by the Spanish conquest, traveled to the lowlands of central Guatemala, where it was rumored to be. Since Nueve Cerros was the farthest outpost in the region, he camped out there for quite a while, eventually giving up and going back south. When he published his memoir of these and other travels in 1878, The Sculptures of Santa Lucia Cosumalwhuapa in Guatemala, With an Account of Travels in Central American and on the Western Coast of South America, he briefly mentioned and described the ruins there.
German geographer Karl Sapper visited the site at the end of the 19th century; after a short investigation, he returned to Germany with part of a sculpture presently on display on the Dahlem Museum in Berlin.
After Sapper, the site lay abandoned by archaeologists, suffering periodic looting. In 1975, Brian Dillon, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, visited the site with the intention of beginning a long-term project there. He recorded two groups with multiple sculptures on the eastern side of the hill, near a recently-abandoned oil camp. After spending several years working on the South Coast at the Preclassic site of Takalik Abaj, he returned in 1977 and 1978, this time digging around the salt source on the western slope of the salt dome, the results of which formed his doctoral dissertation (Dillon 1979).
The next archaeological investigation took place in 1990, when Dillon returned to the site and dug a series of the massive salt storage vessels in the industrial zone, one of which is displayed in the National Museum in Guatemala City. After he left, a series of small reconnaissance projects (Arroyo 1993, Wolley 2003, Geopetrol 2005, Leal 2006, Garrido Lopez 2008) visited and mapped parts of the site that were potential sites for oil exploration and a pipeline which was never built.
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