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2012 Ometepe Field Season Volunteer Information

Call for Volunteers for the 2012 Field Season

Dates: Saturday, January 7 – Jan 27, 2012

Two-week minimum.  Preference given to volunteers who can stay for three weeks.

Volunteers arriving at the start of the field season should plan on being at the Managua airport on the weekend before the session starts.

Cost: $450 per week, includes food, lodging, archaeological training and equipment and transportation from Managua to Ometepe Island. Does not include airfare to Nicaragua.

Contact:  Suzanne Baker or Mike Smith.


Research Area

The Ometepe Archaeological Project is located in Nicaragua on Ometepe Island, the largest island in Lake Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua), one of the biggest freshwater lakes in this hemisphere.  Ometepe is made up of two beautiful volcanoes--Madera and Concepción--and a low-lying corridor of land in between.  In January 2011 we will be working on the east side of the island on the slopes of Volcan Madera.  Excavation and survey in the 1960s by Wolfgang Haberland put the date for occupation of the island at  “around 1500 B.C. and perhaps as  early  as  2000 B.C.”   It is known as  an important precolumbian regional center and the Madera side of the island abounds with petroglyphs.  Very little systematic site survey or inventory had been done on the island prior to this project, which began in 1995.  We have thus far recorded 110 sites and approximately 2000 boulders with petroglyphs or other cultural modifications.  Lithic and ceramic scatters, bedrock mortars, petroglyphs, and complex residential sites with platform mounds have been found.

ometepe map
Map of Ometepe Island showing project area (See also: Google Map)

The Work

Archaeological work will consist primarily of site survey and recordation and detailed petroglyph recording. 

We will do systematic field survey, locating sites by the presence of cultural materials like pot sherds, lithics, or petroglyphs.  Once located we’ll record the sites on a site form, map them, do scale drawings of and photograph each petroglyph, and collect a small amount of diagnostic pottery.   Back at the hacienda in the afternoons, volunteers will be asked to take turns doing some data entry on a lap top computer and inking drawings. Generally we expect to work a five-day week.

The work is fairly rigorous for part of the day.  There will be a lot of hiking.  The terrain is generally gently sloping, but there are some steep slopes. We will sometimes be walking through native forest, but much of the land has been cleared for dry land rice farming, banana plantations, and coffee bushes.  Survey is sometimes difficult because of vegetation, rocky terrain, and heat.  You can expect to be walking or sitting in the hot sun.  There are a few snakes, although they are generally pretty shy.  But keep your eyes open when working or walking around rocks or when in the jungle.

You will be expected to work a five-day week.  Your weekends will be your own.

ometepe petroglyph picture
Petroglyph carved into basalt, typical of Ometepe Island

Accommodations: Hacienda Magdalena

For much of the field season we will stay at Finca Magdalena, although part of the time we may stay in another location depending on where our survey area is located.  Built in 1888, the hacienda consists of two large buildings and several smaller ones. Water is plentiful and good to drink, coming from a spring located on a slope just above the hacienda.

The hacienda is a working cooperative that produces coffee, cocoa and honey, as well as many fruits and vegetables. While the living conditions might seem a bit rustic, there are some modern comforts.

The food is pretty basic but good--rice and beans with fresh fish from the lake or chicken and the occasional hunk of beef or pork. There's plenty of fruit--and the cold beer isn't bad either.

Volunteer Requirements

You do not need to be an experienced archaeologist to participate in this project, although if you have experience, all the better.  We will train you in petroglyph recording techniques.  You will need to be in good physical condition.  Spanish is not necessary, although some Spanish will add to the richness of your experience. 

If you are interested in volunteering, please download the application and send it to us with a $25 deposit to:  Culturelink, 609 Aileen St., Oakland, CA  94609.  Your deposit is non-refundable, but will be included in the total cost of your fees.

Additional very detailed information is found on our Ometepe Project Handbook (word file).  If you are accepted as a volunteer, we would like you to download the handbook, read it thoroughly, and bring it with you to Nicaragua.

hacienda magdalena view
2009 Volunteers and Staff of Ometepe Petroglyph Project

2012 Ometepe Archaeological Project Staff

Suzanne Baker is the Project Director.  She holds an M.A. in Anthropology/Archaeology (University of Illinois). For 33 years she has been a partner in and archaeologist for Archaeological/Historical Consultants, a cultural resources management firm in California. Her archaeological experience has involved directing survey and excavation projects of many kinds, including everything from national forest work to urban archaeology.  Not encountering many petroglyphs in Northern California, she has taken petroglyph recording classes in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.  She is a member of the Register of Professional Archaeologists (ROPA) and the American Rock Art Research Association (ARARA).  She has recently completed a thesis on Ometepe rock art for her MSc in Rock Art Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

In 1985 Suzanne went to Nicaragua for the first time because of an interest in the 1979 Sandinista Revolution and liberation theology.  She has been working with Nicaragua solidarity groups every since, especially NICCA (since 1988) in the San Francisco Bay Area and with the Nicaragua Network.  She participated in and/or organized and led five volunteer work brigades, working on sustainable agriculture projects in the Matagalpa region.   She was previously on the steering committee and the Environmental Task Force of the Nicaragua Network.  Suzanne is knowledgeable about the political and social situation in Nicaragua and is happy to answer questions.

She began working on Ometepe in 1995 and initiated the Ometepe Archaeological Project in 1997 (see Ometepe Project History).

Michael Smith, Assistant Project Director, has been a professional archaeologist for 28 years, working mostly in California. In 1985 he participated in the Zapatera Island survey with Suzanne and has also worked for two seasons in El Salvador, one in Chile, one in Sardinia, and six seasons in Nicaragua with the Ometepe Project.  In addition he has traveled extensively in Latin America, and lived and studied Spanish in Guatemala. 

In the United States Michael has been active with Latin America support groups and has assisted political refugees at the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant in Berkeley for over fifteen years.  He is currently the director of the EBSC’s asylum project.  Michael is also a writer.  He has published two books of short stories based on the experiences of refugees with whom he has worked—Sanctuary Stories (Bilingual Press) and The Nun and the Anarchist (Creative Arts Book Company).