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18 May 2013
The mysterious mounds of Nicaragua

National Geographic explorer and archaeologist Alex Geurds is currently in the field investigating a prehistoric, ceremonial center of stone circles in Central Nicaragua.
     Researchers will be working for the next few weeks at the site of Aguas Buenas, located to north of the city of Juigalpa. In that area, stone and earthen mounds are visible at regular intervals. The Central Nicaragua Archaeological Project is an ongoing archaeological investigation to shed light on the prehistory of Nicaragua, in particular its extraordinary indigenous tradition of monumental stone sculptures and its poorly understood ceremonial complexes.
     As part of this, the Aguas Buenas archaeological site holds special interest. Recent explorations of the site have revealed its unequalled architectural characteristics and extraordinary number of mounds, spread out over the hilly Chontales landscape by means of wide concentric semi-circles. Current knowledge of prehistoric monumental architecture in Central America cannot tell us anything specific about why this site looks like it does. Nor is there a significant amount of previous archaeological research in the region to help us out in understanding Aguas Buenas.
     The 2013 field season features students from Leiden University, the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua and the University of Calgary, geared towards completing a GPS mapping of the site and excavating several of the more than 500 mounds. What are these mounds actually? When were they built and how? Do they serve a purpose as individual mounds or rather playing a role in the larger complex of the site itself? These are just some of the questions fuelling the effort to withstand scorching heat, prickly shrubs and the occasional snake and scorpion.
     Standing among the mound, one would never guess the 600-meter diameter semi-circular patterns these mounds clearly follow from an airborne perspective. Researchers determined the mound to be excavated by working on creating an understanding of when distinct sectors of the site may have been built and how comparable the contents of mounds really are.
     The excavation progress can be followed online.

Edited from National Geographic News Watch (13 May 2013)

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