Cueva La Conga – Revealing Historic Culture

Located in the east central region of Nicaragua’s Jinotega Department, Cueva La Conga is a network of limestone caves featuring fascinating prehistoric paintings which have been the subject of a research project run by Suzanne M. Baker since 2006. The caves are the first of their kind to be discovered so far south within the Mesoamerican area, which includes areas from central Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Mesoamerica is defined by shared cultural traits which flourished prior to the colonization of the region by the Spanish in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Archaeologists have long documented findings indicating that caves were viewed as points of entry to the underworld, being used for rituals by pre-Columbian inhabitants of Mesoamerica. This was particularly the case with the Maya of Yucatan Peninsula, Guatamala, Belize and Honduras, as well as among groups in Central Mexico and the Caribbean. The discovery of Cueva La Conga confirms that the people inhabiting modern-day Nicaragua, held similar beliefs. Shamans, and other ritualistic practitioners, would communicate with supernatural beings believed to live in the underworld, and unusual rock formations within the caves were often worshiped as idols.

Cueva La Conga has two entrances leading into the horizontal limestone karst-formation caves. Partly screened by enormous boulders and an abundance of vegetation, the cave opens into a large chamber which is divided by a hanging wall that touches the ground in a few places. The interior of the cave is mostly quite dry with the exception of a few places where there is continual dripping and the ongoing formation of speleothem formations, such as stalactites, stalagmites, pillars, flowstone, small curtains and a host of random, unusually shaped formations. There are fourteen panels that have been decorated with ochre and charcoal motifs, featuring mostly circles, dots and sun-burst images. Other motifs include a basket-weave pattern and ochre hand prints.

As an intermediate region between the Mesoamerican peoples located in the north, and the Chibchan peoples of the south, Nicaragua was subject to influences from both. It is anticipated that Cueva La Conga will reveal much about the identity and ritualistic practices of the pre-Columbian peoples who occupied this region of Nicaragua.