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Sector Ortega, Mancarron Island, Solentiname

By Willem Liethof (2012)

Sector Ortega is an archaeological site located on the Mancarrón island in the Solentiname Archipelago in Lake Nicaragua, close to the mouth of the San Juan river. In May 2011 myself and two students from Leiden University were shown around the site by Álvaro Ortega, on the land of the Ortega family. The site is located a few hundred meters inland from the lake in low, fertile hills (Fig. 1).


  Figure 1. Overview of Sector Ortega


The site occupies a large area that was estimated to be at least 16 hectares. The surface is littered with ceramics (Fig. 2) and the archaeological layers are said to run approximately 1,30 meters deep. Among the ceramics found on the surface, at least two types were identified: Charco Black on Red, and Sacasa Striated, respectively dating from the Bagaces (A.D. 300-800) and Sapoá (A.D. 800-1350) periods.


Figure 2. Ceramic fragments spread around evidence of looting.


Other archaeological features encountered on the site include petroglyphs (Fig. 3) and four large house mounds (Fig. 4), most disturbed by looting activities which were apparent throughout the site. According to Álvaro Ortega, several burials were found on site, specifically in the mounds. Grave goods consisted of metates, jade objects and elaborate polychrome ceramics.


Figure 3. Spiral petroglyph.




 Figure 4. House mound, cleared for agriculture.


At several locations around the site a large number of metates were found, some plain, some intricately designed, many fragmented (Fig. 5). Some metates were still in use in the kitchens of the Ortega family (Fig. 6). At least two stone statues were identified, one used as an ornament (Fig. 7), the other used in the construction of a low rubble wall (Fig. 8). Several octagonal basalt columns were used in a property dividing wall (Fig. 9).


Figure 5. Fragments of decorated metates.



Figure 6. Mano and metate, still in use at Sector Ortega.



Figure 7. Small anthropomorphic statue.



Figure 8. Eroded statue, used in a rubble wall.




Figure 9. Basalt columns and statue used as property divider.


The author is currently preparing a PhD research proposal that would further investigate Sector Ortega and tie it in with regional archaeological trends. This research would include: surveying and mapping the site, establishing a chronology, recording petroglyphs, and setting up a sustainable method of heritage management, in order to preserve the site and stop subsistence looting.

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