Nicaragua canal developers collect 15,000 archaeologically significant relics along route

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MANAGUA, Nicaragua — A Chinese company granted a concession to build a transoceanic canal across Nicaragua has handed over more than 15,000 pre-Columbian relics to the government, a consultant said Thursday.

The pieces were collected over six weeks by a team of 29 archaeologists and other specialists along the canal's 173-mile (278-kilometer) route, said Manuel Roman Lacayo of Environmental Resources Management, which was hired by HKND of China to consult on the project.

The vast majority of artifacts were apparently shards of pottery or other materials such as obsidian, dating from around 500 B.C. to the 1500s. Such pieces are relatively commonly found in parts of the region.

Roman called it the first phase of archaeological studies related to the canal.

"These are artifacts of indigenous peoples that have significant value," said Bernard Li, an HKND spokesman in Managua.

The pieces were found above ground. Developers have not begun digging the canal itself, though in late December they broke ground on roads related to the broader project.

The canal has an estimated price tag of $50 billion and developers have targeted 2019 for completion. The government promises 50,000 directly related jobs and an economic boost for the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

But the project has also sparked protest from residents of towns in the canal's path who fear they will be displaced and not properly compensated.

Ecologists worry about potential environmental damage, and President Daniel Ortega's political opponents have called the canal deal a giveaway and a boondoggle.

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