Some of the restoration that you see at these Salvadoran sites has to be put into context. Back in the mid-20th century when most of the major archaeological digs were at their most active throughout Latin America, large, flashy, world-class sites like Palenque in Mexico and Copan in Honduras received much more attention and funding than the smaller sites of regional significance such as you find in El Salvador. Moreover, the sites in El Salvador were - and still are - located on multiple parcels of private land, which has complicated exploration into the present day.
El Salvador's ruins had varying levels of archaeological (and governmental) interest and funding at the time of initial excavation, which determined the extent and the quality of the excavations and restorations at each site. Thus we see past restoration techniques that often included modestly-priced concrete facing, in an effort to mimic the stucco that had once covered
Compare the Monte Alban ball court reconstruction to how the temples at Tazumal in El Salvador were reconstructed. Here, some of
The present-day funding and government support for the Salvadoran sites is much better than in the past - especially considering the country's limited budget. Each site has a good, government-funded museum associated with it, where the ruins and the artifacts found there are well interpreted (albeit usually, only in Spanish). Archaeological approaches to excavation and restoration have changed over the years, so now, rather than reconstruct a Mayan temple with concrete, many structures are left unexcavated. Cihuatan is an excellent example of how a valued archaeological site can be properly excavated, preserved, and then interpreted to the general public. The Cihuatan museum even explains the pressures that private land ownership and other factors continue to have on archaeologists' ability to investigate a site and thereby preserve a country's history and culture: "Only 6 lifetimes have transpired since the Spanish Conquest (485 years/6 = 81 years). The last 30 years have seen the most rapid losses of our prehispanic heritage, with the disappearance of traditional houses ("ranchos"), the near cessation of ceramic traditions, and the extinction of traditional varieties of corn and other crops, in addition to the unprecedented destruction of our archaeological sites due to intensive agriculture, subdivisions and other development projects."
The site at San Andres is a good example of the difficulty of balancing private land use with the national interest in preserving an archaeological site. Here in this view, we see the north plaza complex of the Mayan ceremonial center of San Andres. It remains unexcavated and fenced off from the rest of the site, because this portion of it is located entirely on private farmland. Horses and cattle graze there. Presumably archaeologists have at least had access to map the entire site on all the various parcels of private property surrounding the portion of the ruins that are open to the public.
The prehispanic Mayan farm village of Joya de Ceren presents a nice contrast in preservation techniques. Joya de Ceren was buried under 13-26 feet of ash in 640AD, when a volcano less than a mile away, belched. Everybody seems to have escaped but the crops, buildings and artifacts left behind (in a hurry, it seems) are described as the best preserved in the Americas. During the following centuries (after the ash became more stable), a few people resettled the area. In 1976 the ruins were accidentally discovered when the site was being bulldozed for some kind of construction project. Fortunately, the contractor stopped work and contacted the authorities about the discovery. Nowadays, the excavated ruins are protected by a roof and a fenced walkway, and Joya de Ceren is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The land-use pressures are great indeed at sites like Tazumal and Casa Blanca, which for centuries have been surrounded by private property and towns. There is no doubt that a large portion of the old Mayan cities are buried underneath the foundations of 21st-century houses. In the case of the Tazumal ruins, the large, established Chalchuapa city cemetery encompasses a Mayan ball court and nearby structures. Hope the locals are careful when they plow a field or dig a well.
In the meantime, if someone offers to sell you an "authentic" Mayan artifact from El Salvador, be careful: it may very well BE an authentic artifact that Uncle Pedro found when he was digging in his vegetable garden, or that Grandpa happened across back in the 1950s when he was helping move stonework on some archaeological dig. Personally, I'm saving my money to get a very good, certified-in-writing, reproduction of an authentic Mayan artifact. Because I don't want to become a "thief of time," as Tony Hillerman might have put it.