Cultural Heritage Finds on the Nicaraguan Canal Project

03 March 2015

Overview of Cultural Heritage Site Cluster CH-198As a part of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) currently being conducted on behalf of HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co., Limited (“HKND Group”) for the proposed Nicaragua Grand Canal project, Environmental Resources Management (ERM), one of the world’s leading sustainability consultancies, has given significant consideration to the cultural heritage issues of the Project.

This includes archaeological sites, built heritage (buildings of historical importance), and living heritage sites (related to traditions passed from generation to generation). ERM has engaged local communities and national stakeholders in the process pursuant to international and national standards. The cultural heritage aspect of the ESIA includes baseline studies that locate and assess the most sensitive cultural sites and areas, and includes recommendations for mitigation measures to avoid and/or reduce impacts. The fieldwork was coordinated with the Instituto Nicaragüense de Cultura (INC) - the lead agency of the Nicaraguan culture sector and the Rama and Kriol Territorial Government (GTR–K).

To give some scale of the significance of this research, a pre-field work literature search and expert consultation identified 217 previously documented archaeological sites in the general vicinity of the Project area, which consists of the route corridor plus the reservoirs, roads, and utilities. ERM’s field survey discovered 330 new cultural heritage sites: 213 archaeological sites, 105 built heritage sites, and 12 living heritage sites. Data from these sites has contributed substantial knowledge and understanding of Nicaraguan cultural heritage, as research outside the Nicaragua Pacific Coast area has been limited to date. 

Over 15,000 artifacts have been recovered by the survey, including primarily ceramic sherds along with chipped and ground stone artifacts. The artifacts were processed and analyzed by laboratory specialists in Nicaragua to assign dates and cultural affiliations to the sites from which they were recovered. The baseline findings will be reported in the Project ESIA and in a report of investigations to the INC and GTR–K. Artifacts were transferred to INC authorities upon completion of the initial study. All sites identified by the baseline survey were mapped, and their coordinates are now included in a cultural heritage database to support future protection and management efforts of the Nicaragua Grand Canal project.

Given the large areas of un-surveyed areas outside of the Pacific region of the country, ERM’s work on the Nicaragua Grand Canal project has the potential to yield a substantial positive impact on our public and scholarly understanding of Nicaraguan history and culture, especially aspects of its pre-Columbian past. The Project has already identified over one hundred new archaeological resources of High and Medium sensitivity. HKND Group is currently making plans to conserve and share information about these and other finds that the Project would uncover if approved.

About ERM
Environmental Resources Management (ERM) is a leading global provider of environmental, health, safety, risk, social consulting services, and sustainability related services. We have over 150 offices in 40 countries and territories employing more than 5,000 people. ERM is committed to providing a service that is consistent, professional, and of the highest quality. We deliver innovative solutions for business and government clients helping them understand and manage the sustainability challenges that the world is increasingly facing.

The Project ESIA’s Terms of Reference were approved by the Government of Nicaragua, and the fieldwork was coordinated with the Instituto Nicaragüense de Cultura (INC) - the lead agency of the Nicaraguan culture sector and the Rama Kriol Territorial Government (GTR–K). Part of the work on the ESIA included engagement of an international group of cultural heritage specialists to conduct the fieldwork and analysis. The team consisted of 29 investigators, including internationally-recognized experts on Nicaraguan and Central American archaeology. Sixteen of the team members were Nicaraguan nationals. Eighteen of the team members have advanced degrees in archaeology, anthropology, or architectural history including nine with doctoral degrees. The team was led by Dr. Manuel Román, who holds a PhD in anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh and is a former Director of the National Museum of Nicaragua in Managua. Eleven of the team members, including Dr. Roman, are ERM employees based in Latin America and the U.S. ERM has 75 full-time cultural heritage professionals in offices around the world.

For further information on this aspect of the Project, or illustrations of some of the artifact finds, please contact David Blaha. E-mail:

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