Studying Site Construction Processes Through Visibility Analyses: The case of Aguas Buenas, Nicaragua, a pre-Hispanic (400-1525 A.D.) mound complex

Dita Auziņa


Aguas Buenas is a mound and petroglyph site in Central Nicaragua, Chontales, which consists of 379 mounds with a diameter variation from 2 to 20 meters and a height that spans from 10 centimetres to 6 meters. These structures are organised in geometrical, circular configurations, and distributed over a 25 hectare area with complicated topography and vegetation. However, after several on and off mound excavations conducted in the past few years by the Proyecto Arqueológico Centro de Nicaragua (PACEN), the construction, use, and meaning of the site are still under debate.

This paper will focus on the application of visibility analyses and their potential contribution to answering construction related research questions. Apart from that, it will discuss the relationships and supplementing possibilities between GIS based visibility analyses and the phenomenological approach.

Therefore, this paper will present all different phases involved in visibility analyses:

- the development of a Digital Evaluation Model (DEM) from scratch - the challenge of mapping the site;

- the implementation of GIS based visibility and inter visibility analyses through Viewshed analysis or a Line of Sight (LOS) on the basis of a DEM using ArcGIS 10 and Viewshed, Skyline, or LOS tools within the 3D analyst extension. To evaluate viewpoints, observers will be assigned a height of 1.57 m, which reflects the average stature of Nicaraguan indigenous people. Based on visibility areas as well as points breaking the visibility lines, a preliminary model of the complex’s construction phases will be presented.

- As a final step in visibility analyses, modelling results will be tested through a phenomenological approach.