Travel Themes » History & Culture
Nicaragua’s cultural past is rich in pre-Columbian history with remarkable influences from North and South America. Irrefutably the “Footprints of Acahualinca”, in Managua, are the oldest evidence of human beings in this region (4,000 B.C). This important archaeological site reveals the major value of the expedition route for nomadic groups moving through the American Continent.
Middle-American populations of Chorotegas and Nahuas-Nicaraguas, escaping from the oppression of the Toltec empire, settled on the narrow isthmus of Rivas and eventually migrated to the volcanic island of Ometepe. These first inhabitants skillfully carved thousands of basaltic rock-“Petroglyphs”- printing symbols of spirals, circles, animal and human figures, and some mysterious lines and forms, representing the universe. Today, Ometepe has many pre-Columbian sites and archaeologists have identified more than two thousands petroglyphs scattered at the base of the extinct cloud forest of Maderas volcano.
Other major archaeological sites are Zapatera Island and “Isla del Muerto” on lake Nicaragua. “Zapatera” is an extinct and eroded volcano where the Chorotegas Indians conducted sacred rituals to their Gods. Most of them sculpted rock idols in human and animal figures. “Isla del Muerto” is a little volcanic island with a large rock on its top where petroglyphs of birds, dancing humans, symbols, and unexplained figures were carved on this hard piece of boulder.
In order to preserve Nicaragua’s Indigenous heritage all different types of pre-Columbian artifacts have been excavated and brought from burial sites to local museums for exhibition. As an example, the former San Francisco Monastery was renovated and converted into Granada's museum, keeping in its interior the famous Zapatera-Squier alter-ego collection. This group of totems were made by the Chorotegas 800 A.C, discovered by the American traveler Ephraim George Squier in 1849 on Zapatera Island and transported to main land at the beginning of the 20 century. Other objects on exposition include; funeral urns, ceremonial pots, “metates” or grinding stones, obsidian rocks and spear heads.
Also the National Museum of Nicaragua is another splendid location preserving the country’s richest pre-Conquest heritage. The building is the previous facilities of the National Palace in old Managua, used by the Somoza and Sandinista regimes as a congress house and government office. Currently this museum houses a fine collection of rock deities, elaborate jaguar-headed grinding slabs, womb-shape funeral urns, clay-based color tripods, bracelets, and other meaningful items. Other Nicaraguan museums holding important pre-Columbian findings are located in Moyogalpa, Altagracia, Leon, Rivas, Juigalpa and Nindiri.
Meanwhile most likely a great part of Nicaragua’s pre-Columbian history still remains underground, waiting to emerge and reveal more mysterious stories.