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Ancient civilisation discovered in the Nicaraguan jungle

May 16, 2003

A team of archaeologists from the Universitat Aut¨noma de Barcelona (UAB), the Universidad Nacional Aut쭯ma de Nicaragua (UNAN-Managua), and the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Ciențicas (CSIC) have found strong archaeological evidence for the existence of a previously unknown prehistoric civilisation in the jungle on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. The find, which includes the discovery of petroglyphs and unusual centres of monolith production and distribution, could extend the geographical limits of the process that gave rise to the cities of the Mayan civilisation. However, this newly discovered civilisation disappeared suddenly some 1,600 years ago.

In November 2002, a team of researchers from the Department of Social Anthropology and Prehistory of the UAB and the UNAN-Managua announced the discovery of the archaeological site, El Cascal de Flor de Pino, in the town of Kukra Hill, in Nicaragua. The find provided evidence of the existence of an ancient, previously unknown civilisation. The latest data obtained by the scientists during their campaign this April, and the result of six years'' continuous research in the tropical rainforests of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, in collaboration with the CSIC, have confirmed the existence of this civilisation. The scientists have located a significant number of archaeological sites that arose when the area was populated between 1,500 BC and the period of the European conquest.

The new data show how the way of life of the indigenous population changed over time. The most significant aspect is the identification of the existence of a complex society that inhabited the area for 10 centuries, between 750 B.C. and approximately 400 A.D. and which later disappeared, leaving no trace of continuity.

Among the most significant finds are:

۠ the discovery of a settlement with monumental architecture and an evident urban structure that led to the political centralisation in the area of the population over the period. This settlement may well have a necropolis associated with it;
۠ the discovery of settlements of small dependent village communities;
۠ the discovery of rock paintings (pertoglyphs) associated with the sites of this period;
۠ the discovery of specialised monolith production and distribution centres. These monoliths appear to have been used for construction and landmarks, probably during the same period.

The newly discovered civilisation is similar to the societies that preceded the Mayan civilisation further to the north, during the Pre-classical Period. This fact shows that in its origin, the process (political centralisation) that led to the founding of the Mayan cities, such as Tikal, Palenque, or Copan (in Guatemala, Mexico, and Honduras respectively) covered a much larger geographical region than archaeologists have supposed up to now.

Over 2,500 years ago there was intense contact and exchange between the peoples of the Atlantic side of Central America, a fact that coincides with the appearance of centralised political structures and societies with an unequal distribution of wealth. However, this process of regional "globalisation" stopped abruptly during the fifth century A.D. To the north, the prehistoric peoples developed towards the classical Mayan societies. By contrast, in the Nicaraguan jungle, current evidence suggests the abandonment and burning of known settlements, along with the definitive disappearance of this society and the appearance of significantly different ways of life.

Throughout April, the research team excavated the prehistoric village of Karoline and one of the settlement platforms of El Cascal de Flor de Pino, with accompanying prospections in adjacent areas. This forms part of the work that has been carried out every year by the UNAN-Managua and the UAB since 1998, and the CSIC, since its incorporation in 2002. The research undertaken has also been given financial support of the Ministry Of Education, Culture, and Sport and the Spanish Agency for International Co-operation, with the framework of Joint Spanish-Latin American Research Projects and Aid for Archaeological Excavation Abroad. It has also been supported by the Universidad de las Regiones de la Costa Caribe de Nicaragua (URACCAN), the Consejo Aut쭯mo de la Region Aut쭯mo del Atl·ntico Sur (South Atlantic Autonomous Regional Council), the municipal authorities of Kukra Hill, Bluefields, and Pearl Lagoon, and the Kukra Development Corporation.

Universitat Aut¨noma de Barcelona
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