Nicaragua remains one of the least explored countries, archaeologically speaking, in the Americas. This is surprising because of the early interest of 19th century explorers who visited and published on some of their remarkable discoveries, including monumental sculptures and beautiful pottery. This exhibition introduces the prehistory of Nicaragua, from its geological foundations from volcanic and tectonic activities through initial habitation by migrating hunters and gatherers, the rise of social complexity, interaction with foreign groups, and ultimately European contact and colonization.
The creation of Nicaragua
Central America was created through tectonic activities beginning about 15 million years ago, when the Cocos plate began passing beneath the Central America plate. As a result a chain of volcanoes grew, including various within Nicaragua itself. At the union of the two plates is a low area where the two great lakes, Cocibolca and Xolotlan, were formed, and further south is the Gulf of Nicoya in Costa Rica.
The first humans to arrive in the Americas crossed the Bering land bridge from Asia to Alaska by at least 15,000 years before present. Archaeological evidence indicates that migrating hunters and gatherers spread south over the next millennia, reaching the southern tip of South America by crossing the isthmus of Central America. Material evidence is found in the form of stone spear heads, such as Clovis and Folsom points that were used for hunting megafauna.
The first known settlements were located along the lake shores, especially in the Managua metropolitan zone. Between about 500 BCE and 800 CE population grew with increasingly complex settlement hierarchies. Archaeologists believe that the inhabitants were affiliated with the Macro-Chibchan language family, related to indigenous groups located from Honduras to Venezuela, and still occupying the Caribbean watershed of Nicaragua. Decorated ceramics and imported obsidian indicate cultural contacts with El Salvador and western Honduras. The site of Sonzapote on Zapatera Island featured monumental statues of seated nobility and/or deities, located around low mounds suggesting incipient urbanism.
The Chibcha culture
Beginning about 800 CE, dramatic changes in the material culture of Pacific Nicaragua indicate greater interaction within a super-regional interaction sphere, including Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica, but according to ethno historical sources also exchange networks from Central Mexico. These sources suggest waves of migrants, speaking Mesoamerican languages, to form the Chorotega and Nicarao cultural groups. Archaeological evidence indicates changing settlement patterns, greater levels of social complexity, and new pottery types, mortuary patterns, and other characteristics. This pattern of cultural change culminated in 1522 with the arrival of the Spanish.
15 millones antes del presente/ before present
15,000 antes del presente/ before present
500 a.C./BCE –300 d.C./CE
800 –1250 d.C./CE
1250 –1525 d.C./CE
Creación del istmo de América Central / Creation of the Central American isthmus
Llegada de los primeros seres humanos a las Américas/ Arrival of the first humans in the Americas
Primeros asentamientos en Nicaragua / First permanent settlements in Nicaragua
El auge de la complejidad social / Rise of social complexity
Cultura Chibcha/ Chibchaculture
Cultura Chorotega/ Chorotegaculture
Cultura Nicarao/ Nicaraoculture
Evolución de ancestros humanos en Africa / Evolution of human ancestors in Africa
La diáspora de seres humanos a diversas regiones del mundo/ The diaspora of humans to diverse parts of the world
Civilizaciones en Egipto, China y Mesopotamia; sociedades complejas en México y Perú/ Civilizations in Egypt, China, and Mesopotamia; complex societies in Mexico and Peru
Civilizaciones griegas y romanas; Zapotecas de México y Moche de Perú/ Greek and Roman civilizations; Zapote cof Mexico and Moche of Peru
Civilizaciones Maya y Teotihuacan de México; Tiwanakude Perú/ Maya and Teotihuacan civilizations of Mexico; Tiwanaku of Peru
Civilizaciones Tolteca de México, Chimu de Perú/ Toltec civilization of Mexico, Chimu of Peru
Civilización Azteca de México, Inca de Perú/Aztec civilization of Mexico, Inca of Peru.