About the Ometepe Petroglyph Project

The Ometepe Petroglyph Project is a long term volunteer archaeological field survey of part of Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.Over the last seven seasons the project has surveyed an area of 15 square kilometers, recording and mapping 73 archaeological sites. Over 1600 petroglyph panels on 1400 boulders have been photographed, drawn, and cataloged as part of the survey.


Lake Nicaragua, with a surface area of 8,264 sq. km, is the largest inland body of water in Central America. Ometepe island is the largest island in the lake and is comprised of two volcanos connected by a narrow isthmus. The volcanic soil has made the plains extremely fertile, permitting permanent cultivation of the slopes. Major crops on the island include coffee, cocoa, rice, beans, and plantains. The island is a net exporter of food, both to the rest of Nicaragua and abroad. The Ometepe Petroglyph Project is based at the Hacienda Magdalena, an agricultural cooperative on the Maderas (southern) side of the island.


The island has probably been inhabited since the Dinarte phase (ca. 2000-500 B. C.), although the evidence for the oldest phase on the island is extremely limited. Between 500 BC and 1000 AD the island had close connections with the isthmus of Rivas to the west and the Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica) to the south. Around 1000 AD Nahua-speaking peoples from northern Central America settled on the island. Many of the current place names (Moyogalpa, Ometepetl) date from the Nahua occupation. Dates for the thousands of petroglyphs on the island are unknown. The variety of styles present suggests that they were created over a long time. Rock carvings are, however, impossible to date precisely. One of the purposes of this project is to begin of a study of motif distributions so that they can be better associated with dateable sites.

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