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Project Goals

Submitted by admin on Wed, 02/27/2008 - 11:22am

The archaeology of Nicaragua remains poorly developed despite advances since the 1990s, yet the pre-Columbian past is an important foundation for the modern culture and political identity of the country and its people. The Tepetate Archaeological Project (TAP) will produce important results to better understand the late prehistory of the indigenous population at the site of Tepetate, located on the outskirts of the Colonial capital of Granada on the northwest coast of Lake Nicaragua. Tepetate was a centre of the Chorotega culture at the time of the Spanish conquest, and has previously been surveyed and described by Silvia Salgado (1996). Since the Chorotega were a migrant ethnic group originating in central and southern Mexico, the project will consider questions of migration and ethnic identity as revealed in the archaeological record, building on insights compiled in a recently completed, SSHRC funded project in Santa Isabel, Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan culture history highlights ethnohistorical accounts of migrations from central Mexico in the final centuries of the prehispanic era, including the Oto-Manguean speaking Chorotega and the Nahua Nicarao. Yet despite the well-documented historical accounts relatively little archaeological attention has been paid to the question of cultural origins. Recent anthropologically oriented interpretations tend to reject the significance of these migrations and prefer an autochthonous development of prehispanic culture as part of a Greater Chibchan culture area relating to lower Central America and northern South America. Excavations at Santa Isabel, in the Rivas district south of Granada, recovered evidence to support both of these competing interpretations, resulting in a more complex scenario than either position had previously proposed, and one that requires further exploration.

The proposed research would continue to investigate these issues by moving to a site that was believed to have been occupied by the Chorotega at the moment of first European contact. Archaeological investigations will create a detailed map of the existing features to better understand the internal organization of the site. Additionally, horizontal excavations will expose remains of domestic and public spaces. Household archaeology is widely regarded as one of the best means for inferring social identity, and thus will prove useful for interpreting the development of Chorotega ethnic identity. Since this is the same methodology employed at Santa Isabel it will provide a valuable means for comparison between these contemporary and probably culturally related sites. However, because Santa Isabel was abandoned before the arrival of the Spanish, Tepetate will fill in a missing piece of the chronological puzzle of Pacific Nicaragua.

In summary, the Tepetate Archaeological Project will advance knowledge of Nicaraguan culture history while further exploring the archaeology of ethnicity and Mesoamerican migration into Lower Central America. As such it will build on previously funded SSHRC research and expand collaboration between Canadian, Nicaraguan, and Costa Rican institutions. Additionally, since the site of Tepetate is currently being impacted by the growth of modern Granada, this research will salvage important information that is currently threatened with imminent destruction.

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