efe-epaSara Acosta San Salvador

Public archaeology consists of involving citizens in conserving and protecting a country's heritage, and implementing it in El Salvador is essential for preserving the Central American nation's archaeological relics and sites, archaeologist Miriam Mendez told EFE.

Mendez, who has focused her work on archaeological sites in the southwestern municipality of Tamanique, said that involving the current population in tasks of this kind would help to "sensitize people to contribute to the conservation of (the national) heritage" and would result in "greater local development via cultural tourism."

From her point of view, public archaeology can be combined with cultural projects that economically benefit communities where archaeological sites are located and contribute to their local development.

"Public archaeology can push cultural projects in those areas where archaeological zones have been identified, which would generate economic income for the local population, who - besides achieving local development - would involve themselves with protecting and preserving local heritage," she said.

Mendez said that there are about 800 archaeological sites in El Salvador, most of them located on private property, and so it is necessary to forge alliances with communities, city halls and universities to "promote cultural tourism projects ... and thus preserve and protect them."

"Any archaeological project should have the public part as an intrinsic portion, and the participation of the public is essential and indispensable," she said.

The archaeologist, with the support of Japanese experts, recently discovered a new archaeological site in the town of Tamanique, 36 kilometers (22 miles) southwest of San Salvador, where another 31 sites have been identified and which are divided into two zones in the municipality.

The archaeological heritage of Tamanique, which encompasses about 1,400 hectares (about 3,500 acres) in La Libertad province, is protected by the San Isidro Cooperative, which is made up of a group of 100 families who settled there and later took note of the archaeological wealth that surrounded them.

These families, Mendez said, did not know about the archaeological heritage lying buried just below their feet but when they learned of it they organized to preserve what they had there and that is precisely what public archaeology seeks to accomplish.

"The work of this community is very important because public archaeology can do many things ... not only in terms of the question of identity but also in terms of local and economic development," she said.

She said that the sites identified in Tamanique "reflect the population density there was in in the pre-Hispanic epoch, which was strong."

At the newly discovered site, archaeologists have found assorted ceremonial centers and "residential" structures, indicating that the area was "densely populated" and "there was a lot of activity" there, she said.

Mendez emphasized that the collaboration of local residents "will be determinative for preserving this new site, which without a doubt confirms to us that El Salvador is an archaeological site," and so it is "necessary to raise awareness and seek alliances."

El Salvador - which covers 21,041 square kilometers (8,088 square miles) has five archaeological parks: San Andres, Casa Blanca, Tazumal, Joya de Ceren and Cihuatan.

The most important of these, Joya de Ceren - called "The Pompeii of the Americas" - is located near the towns of San Juan Opico and Las Flores, in La Libertad province, and was buried by ash from the eruption of the Loma Caldera volcano between 600-650 A.D.

In 1993, the site was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and it now hosts numerous visitors and had captured the interest of a number of international figures, including former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited the park in 2015.