Saturday, October 15, 2016

Piedras Pintadas, Icalupe, Somoto, Nicaragua

I don't want to leave my devoted readers hanging, so I'll start by saying that Hurricane Matthew had little to no effect on Boynton Beach. The big headline was that one of the restaurants on the Intracoastal Waterway got a few inches of water in the parking lot.

Now, to the point of this post: a much delayed description of the petroglyphs at Piedras Pintadas.

Near the end of our last field season, Jorge Zambrana very kindly took us up to Somoto to see the Cañon de Somoto and the petroglyphs at Piedras Pintadas. Somoto itself is a lovely old town in the highlands, cool, picturesque, and pacific. (Most of the photos in this post were taken by Kelsey Willis.)

Somoto in the northern highlands

Colonial church in Somoto during Sunday mass

The first day, we visited the museum and took photos of some of the pieces in municipal museum. They have some interesting artifacts, including Ulua Polychrome, Campana Fine Line Polychrome, Usulutan ware, Segovias fine supports, and an Ulua-style marble vase.    

 In the evening, we drove to the Parque Ecológico Municipal Piedras Pintadas in Icalupe. It's a huge doline or perhaps an uvala high in the pine-clad hills. On one sheer wall, where is slightly undercut, there is a whole field of petroglyphs, in many places daubed with red and blue paint.

Pine-clad hills around Piedras Pintadas

First view into the doline where the petroglyphs are located

The limestone strata are clearly visible

The first petroglyphs you see as you come down the path

More petroglyphs

The red paint is noteworthy in this section

And yet more...

I like the blue wading bird

Do you see the crab?

Very interesting petroglyphs. There have been some studies of the iconography, but I doubt the subject has been exhausted.

There are some artifacts scattered about. We saw a couple of sherds of Segovias.

Deymins, the archaeologist who acted as our guide and who knows the site well, told me there are caves about, including at least one in the park.


The next day we went to the Cañon de Somoto. It was indescribably beautiful, but we have no pictures because we couldn't carry them in the inner tubes. It is truly spectacular and merits a visit.

 Later in the day, Deymins took us to another petroglyph site near Somoto. The first set of carvings occur in a small rock shelter formed by a group of fallen boulders. I don't remember the name of the site, and I apparently did not write it down.

Petroglyphs in rock shelter near Somoto

Another petroglyph at the entrance to the rockshelter
As I was about to kneel to crawl into the rockshelter, I saw a snake. Deymins said it was a tamagás, one of the deadliest vipers in the region.  I killed it with my new machete. (My old machete was "detained" by Customs, even though I bought it in Nicaragua.)  Unfortunately, the new sheath was not up to its job, and the machete cut through it and halfway through my belt.

Dead tamagás

We visited one more set of petroglyphs nearby and went back to Somoto. If you look on a map, you can see that the northern Chinandega borders of the Department of Madriz, where Somoto is located. In fact, the town of Somoto is located only 27 kilometers from the Chinandega border, but since there is no road that way, you have to go east at least as far as Leon and the north, all of which takes many hours.

The visit was truly lovely and unforgettable. The area will well reward a visit by anyone who enjoys a beautiful landscape or archaeological remains.

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