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The Biogeographical TWO Setting of Nicaragua The Republic of Nicaragua, largest country of the "Intermediate Area," rests athwart the rugged isthmus of Central America, lying between 83° 11' and 87° 42' west longitude and 10°45' and 15°05' north latitude; it today encompasses about 130,000 square km. The Republic is shaped much like a tilted triangle and is approximately equivalent to the surface area of northern New England (the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts).Active ports are maintainedtoday on both the Atlantic(or Caribbean) and Pacific coasts. The latter shore, running in a northwest to southeast direction , extends 305 km. from the "three nations" region of the Gulf of Fonseca to Penas Blancas on the Costa Rican border. The longer Caribbean shore, roughly 450 km., frequently termed the Mosquito Coast, runs from Gracias a Dios on the Coco (or Wanks or Segovia) River due south to the Rio SanJuan.1 To the north lies the Republicof Honduras, while Costa Rica forms the southern frontier (Fig. 1). The capital of Nicaragua, Managua (population 296,000 in 1967), is one of the youngest capitals in Latin America, having been selected only in 1858, and is situated on the southern edge of Lake Managua (or Xolotlan) at the foot of the Pacific or Diriamba Highlands (West and Augelli 1966:428). Lake Managua and its larger affiliate, Lake Nicaragua (or Cocibolca), discovered by the Spaniard Gil Gonzalezde Avila, are the two largest freshwater bodies in Middle America; the latter isan impressive 165 km. long, 72 km. across, and some 125 m. deep, making it the largest body of water between the Great Lakes of North America and Lake Titicaca in southern Peru and Bolivia. A number of small islandsare located in Lake Nicaragua, including Isla de Ometepe, near the centre of the lake, which is actually two circular islands (about 18 and 11 km. across) rising up to volcanoes and connected by a short isthmus. Zapatera Island, somewhat smaller in size (about 8 km. long), is found to the northwest of Ometepe. Both islands possess archaeological remains of interest. 1 The Honduras-Nicaragua border dispute wassettled by a decision of the International Court (The Hague) on November 18, 1960. This decision set the frontier of the two nations at Rio Coco. 7 8 Archaeology of the Rivas Region, Nicaragua Fig. 1. Map of the Republic of Nicaragua. Hatchured zonesindicate land over 175 m. in elevation (after Teran and Incer 1964). Though physiographically diverse, Nicaragua can be divided into three major zones (Fig. 2): Fig. 2. An east-west transection of Nicaragua illustrating the overall major physiographic and ecological zones (after Teran and Incer 1964:136-37). (1) La Mosquitia, or the Mosquito Coast, as it is popularly known, is the hot, humid, rain-soaked Atlantic watershed area. The zone forms roughly the eastern third of Nicaragua and, like much of the Caribbean coast of eastern Honduras and Costa Rica,isa land of thick rain forest, malarial swamps, and leached savannas. The poor, gravelly soilsare markedly transected by winding,slow-movingrivers like the Coco, Escondido, Mico,Rain, and Corn, whichalloriginate in the mountainous region of central Nicaragua. (2) The Central Highlands form a vast folded and faulted mountainous extension of the Honduran uplands. Some of the The Biogeographical Setting of Nicaragua higher peaks reach heights of 2,400 m. and, until recently, this rugged area has been only sparsely populated. It is in the highlands that numerous river headwaters originate, flowingdown the eastern slopes to the Atlantic, or, like the Molocalaja, Mayales, Tecolestote, and Las Marias, to the western side where they empty into the great Nicaraguan lake basins or the Rio SanJuan. In the northern portion of the Republic the great Central American cordillera splits to form the Central Highlands, while a younger, more active branch of the volcanic axis extends due south, nearly paralleling the Nicaraguan Pacific coast. (3) The smaller Pacific Region, aboriginally part of Mesoamerica , is the most complex physical area of Nicaragua. In addition to a range of active calderas (termed the Diriamba Highlands or Sierra de los Morabios), which run about 16 to 32 km. inland, there are rich volcanicash lowlands. These lie in a great basin-like trough, frequently called the Nicaraguan Depression, formed by the fork of the Central American volcanic axis. It is in this fertile lowland that Nicaragua's population is most concentrated, as apparently even in Pre-Columbian times. The deep rift containing the two massivelakes follows the Rio...


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