The Espíritu Santo Rockshelter

In its new map "Peopling of the Americas", which purports to show important Paleoindian and Early Archaic sites throughout the Americas along with suggested routes of migration of the earliest Americans, the National Geographic Society has identified Cihuatán as a Paleoindian site!

National Geographic map detail
The National Geographic Map with the Espíritu Santo Rockshelter added.
View of rockshelter
The Espíritu Santo rockshelter.

Since there is no evidence whatsoever for any occupation of the Loma de Cihuatán before the Early Postclassic and since the Paleoindians are not known to have built monumental architecture such as we see at Cihuatán, nor to have cultivated maize, cacao and other Mesoamerican crops, we are somewhat bemused.

It seems very likely that the researchers for the map were unfamiliar with Central American sites and site names and mistook Cihuatán for the Espíritu Santo rockshelter, near the little town of Corinto in the Department of Morazán. This well known site may very well have had a Paleoindian occupation. In the mid 1970s, excavations by Wolfgang Haberland and Manuel López of El Salvador’s National Museum uncovered simple stone tools of the Zuncuyu Tradition, which Haberland hypothesized might be very ancient. However, they also uncovered abundant evidence that the rockshelter was in use through the Postclassic epoch and Haberland has postulated that it served, especially during the Late Classic (ca. AD 650-950), as a camp for hunters provisioning communities within the realm of the dominant center of Quelepa. The pictographs for which the rockshelter is famous show hunters and other human figures, including hand silhouettes, and some later engravings.

Painted figures with headdresses
Pictographs of figures with headdresses in the Rockshelter
Digital enhancement
The same figures digitally enhanced.

Bird and human figures
A painted bird, a human with a staff and other figures as they appear today.
Digital enhancement
The same figures digitally enhanced.

Petroglyph and bullet hole
An ancient pictograph with bullet holes from the civil conflict of the 70s and 80s near it. The dark coloration is from fires built by the insurgents within the rockshelter.

Photographs of the figures within the rockshelter by Paul Amaroli; photographs of the rockshelter and the petroglyph by Silvia Esquival.


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