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Re-Conceptualizing Nicaraguan Prehistory

At the 2011 conference of the Society for American Archaeology, a panel of scholars will be discussing their recent contributions to Nicaraguan archaeology.  Their papers are presented here, along with contact information where they can be reached.

Session: Re-Conceptualizing Nicaraguan Prehistory

The Society for American Archaeology Conference, Sacramento (March
30-April 3, 2011)

Organized by Geoffrey McCafferty and Alex Geurds


Carrie Dennett and Geoffrey McCafferty
(University of Calgary)

Pottery and People: Reassessing Social Identity In
Pacific Nicaragua

reconstruction of social identity in pre-Columbian Pacific Nicaragua has
traditionally been based on ethnohistoric sources that suggest
Chorotegan-speaking groups replaced local indigenous culture with new people,
language and material culture ca. A.D. 800. Support for this reconstruction is
typically based on the introduction of a white-slipped

polychrome tradition that appeared around this time. However, recent
research demonstrates that these “new styles” were likely not the result of
aggressive population replacement and far-flung external influences. Instead,
these changes seem to be the result of incremental internal

development influenced by increased contact and exchange with
southeastern Mesoamerican groups, particularly from Honduras.


Alex Geurds (University of Leiden)

Materials and Materiality of Megalithics in Nicaragua

            Megalithic stones are
a global prehistoric phenomenon. From unworked to entirely shaped, they are an
artifact category retaining a strong natural character. Central Nicaraguan
megalithics are examined here with this broad perspective in mind. In moving
away from traditional categorizations of typology and class, contextual data
are used to gain insights into the assemblages in which these stones occurred.
It is argued that megalithics in Nicaragua were not isolated but usually
grouped, thereby creating an internal structure for sites of ceremony. The
choices involved in creating these assemblages in turn suggest communally
shared efforts, technology and memories.  


Geoffrey McCafferty (University of Calgary)

Reflections on Ten Years of Nicaraguan Archaeology

            I was drawn to
Nicaraguan archaeology through the question of Mesoamerican migrations,
especially based on the possibility of Cholula’s involvement in the
process.  This paper will present the
results of two successive projects along the shore of Lake Cocibolca that
recovered extensive information on Early Postclassic domestic practice.  As a result of this holistic approach I will
assess how the archaeological data compares with the model for Mexican
influence based on ethnohistorical expectations.


Sharisse McCafferty, Geoffrey McCafferty, Celise Chilcote, and Andrea Waters-Rist
(University of Calgary)

Raising the Dead:
Mortuary Patterns in Pacific Nicaragua

               Mortuary practices are one the
fundamental expressions of ideological practice and cultural identity.
Unfortunately, in Pacific Nicaragua cemeteries are also the principal targets
of illegal looting, so relatively few scientific excavations have been
conducted. This paper will summarize research on mortuary practices from the
recently excavated sites of El Rayo, Tepetate and Santa Isabel.  There is substantial variation among sites in
the age, sex and health profiles of interred individuals, which is explored in
relation to differences in site function and regional differences in mortuary
practices. Overall, this bioarchaeological analysis of human remains is hoped
to be a launching point upon which analysis of further sites will occur aiding
in the formation of a regional database.


Lorelei Platz and Carrie Dennett (University of Calgary)

Preliminary Ceramic Compositional Analysis from the La Arenera Site, Pacific Nicaragua

Tempisque and Bagaces periods in Nicaragua contain distinct types of ceramics
that have not been greatly researched. The site of La Arenera corresponds to
the Tempisque period, while Las Delicias is thought to be part of the
Tempisque-Bagaces transition. Ceramics and radiocarbon dates from La Arenera
are compared to the Las Delicias site. There are key types of ceramics that are
found at the beginning and end of the Bagaces period but are not continuous or
continuations from the earlier Tempisque period. The purpose is to determine if
Bagaces warrants subdivisions into smaller periods based on the ceramics. 


Larry Steinbrenner (Red Deer College)

Potting Traditions of Pacific Nicaragua, AD 800-1350 [Tables and Figures]

More than eighty years after Lothrop’s watershed Pottery of Costa Rica and
Nicaragua, archaeologists working in Greater Nicoya continue to struggle with
problems of ceramic taxonomy. Decades of research have led to the identification of
a bewildering array of ceramic types, but little discussion of the
interrelationships between these types. This paper argues that most of the Sapoá
Period polychrome types previously identified in Pacific Nicaragua—including those
usually treated as markers of different immigrant Mesoamerican groups—are more alike
than unalike, and are best understood as the products of a common potting tradition
with a Central American origin.


Sacha Wilke (University of British Columbia)

There’s a Gadget for that! Examining changes in
fishing tools at El Rayo.

transition between the Bagaces and Sapoa periods in Nicaraguan pre-history
relates to important changes in the material culture, which some suggest are
explained by the immigration of a new population to the area. The extent and
type of interaction is unclear. This paper will examine the continuity and
changes of ceramic and bone tools seen through this transition period, at the
site of El Rayo. Special attention will be given to the three style variations
of net sinkers found at the site and the use of bone fish hooks throughout


Laura M. Wingfield (Emory University)

Decoding Nicoyan Body Decoration: From Spirals to
Mat-Weave Patterns on Nicaraguan and Costa Rican Effigies and Stamps, c. 500
BCE-1500 CE

Nicoyans did not have a writing system, but they did express themselves through
body decoration. From the earliest period, Nicoyans appear to have experimented
with free-form body painting of spirals, circles, and some animals. By the
Florescent period, these designs became more regulated with the use of stamps
in patterns of crosses, waves, animals, and humans. In the Later periods, after
the migration of Central Mexican peoples into the region, some earlier Nicoyan
designs were still present, but new stamped mat-weave patterns were introduced.
What does the latest archaeological evidence tell us about Nicoyan body art?



Fred Lange (LSA Associates)


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