Friday, September 20, 2013

Cave research in Nicaragua

This should be a short post because there has been very little archaeological research on caves in Nicaragua. One probable reason for the dearth of research is the paucity of caves in Nicaragua, which is mostly volcanic. There are a few caves of volcanic origin, but they are not common. The only limestone area of the country, where caves should be (and may be) more common, is a small expanse of karst in a remote and inaccessible stretch along the northern border. There, Suzanne Baker recently discovered a significant cave with paintings that she named Cueva la Conga. There's a fine article on it in the new number of Latin American Antiquity that just came in the mail.

Baker, Suzanne M. and Ruth Ann Armitage (2013). Cueva La Conga: First Karst Cave Archaeology in Nicaragua. Latin American Antiquity Vol. 24, No. 3, pp. 302-329.

This is not the first article published about the cave. You can also see

Li, Ran, Suzanne Baker, Cathy Selvius DeRoo, and Ruth Ann Armitage (2012). Characterization of the Binders and Pigments in the Rock Paintings of Cueva La Conga, Nicaragua. In Collaborative Endeavors in the Chemical Analysis of Art and Cultural Heritage Materials, edited Patricia L. Lang and Ruth A. Armitage, pp. 75-89. American Chemical Society. ACS Symposium Series, Vol. 1103. DOI: 10.1021/bk-2012-1103.ch004.

Here you can find a nice web site about the project too.

Continuing on the theme of Nicaraguan cave research, I'm in the process of translating (from Spanish to English) long excerpts from the reports of Fray Antonio Margil de Jesús and Fray Rodrigo Betancourt describing their attempt to evangelize the central highlands of Nicaragua in 1703. Transcriptions of the documents have been published by both Ruz and Van Broekhoven. The latter transcription appears to be more complete and is certainly easier to parse because of the highly creative but unconventional organization of Ruz's article. The two transcriptions also differ, at least slightly, because they come from two different copies of the reports. Ruz found his copies in the Franciscan archives in Rome, the Archivio Generale de la Ordine dei Fratri Minori, while Van Broekhoven's come from a conventual archive in Querétaro, México. What do these have to do with cave archaeology? They contain remarkable descriptions of cave worship and rites, so much so that the majority of the text concerns the religious use of caves in one way or another. It's great stuff! The cultural-religious patterns they describe sound very Mesoamerican, so it is relevant to all those Mayanist and Mexicanist cave archaeologists, though I have never seen it cited by them. I plan to include my translations in a book, the manuscript of which is nearing completion. Wish me luck in the proposal and submission process. Here are the full references for Ruz and Van Broekhoven:

Ruz, Mario Humberto (1994). Atajar los ríos, poner puertas al campo. Loa sacramental para los dioses de Nicaragua, 1703. Estudios de Cultura Novohispana, Vol. 14, pp. 61-115, México, UNAM: Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas.

Electronic copies of Ruz's article are available on the internet.

Van Broekhoven, Laura N. K. (2002) Conquistando Lo Invencible: Fuentes Históricas sobre las Culturas Indígenas de la Región Central de Nicaragua.Leiden (The Netherlands): CNWS Publications.

This book is out of print and difficult to obtain, except through InterLibrary Loan here in the United States.  It merits reprinting.

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