Sep 21, 2021

FEC-CIAI work in the time of the Covid Pandemic

Carlos Mayo defending his doctoral thesis.
Carlos Mayo defending his doctoral thesis.

When the Fundación El Caño-Center of Archaeological Investigations of the Isthmus (FEC-CIAI) team is not working in the archaeological site, they work in the laboratory of the foundation, located in the City of Knowledge, Clayton. The time is used to conserve artifacts and conduct research related to the field work and findings that have been uncovered in the previous field seasons. Due to the pandemic, no field season was conducted in 2021.

As offices and schools have begun reopening, members the FEC-CIAI team have taken the opportunity to work on professional and educational projects, both projects of their own and advising students on projects they are working on for their university degrees.

In June, Carlos Mayo, co-director of the El Caño Archaeological Project and brother of Doctor Julia Mayo, successfully defended his doctoral thesis, "Craft specialization in Ancient Coclé (780-1020 A.D.): stylistic ascription and standardization analysis of ceramics from El Caño", from the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela. With the quantity of ceramics that have been recovered from El Caño, it has been invaluable to have a member of the team who specialized in the study of these works of art.

Two students from the University of Panamá, Arturo and James, have been working at the lab with Drs. Julia and Carlos Mayo as their advisors on their undergraduate projects. They join Yadixa, an anthropology student at the University of Panamá working on her graduate program and Katherinne, a student at the Autonomous University of Chiriquí completing her undergraduate project, in advancing their Anthropology academic studies through a partnership with FEC-CIAI.

Arturo has begun work on a project to characterize and analyze the manufacturing traces of carved sperm whale teeth from the necropolis of El Caño. In the coming months, he will characterize the manufacturing traces to learn about the manufacturing techniques and tools used. This will enable him to identify technical gestures, procedures and tools used, and also to recognize the workshop or workshops of origin.

The technique he is using to record the marks is known as Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). RTI is based on the principle of light contrast whereby, when light is projected from different angles onto an object, its shapes, including the marks left by the tools used in its manufacture, and create shadows that enhance its relief.

This technique consists of making high-resolution images using a digital camera which is fixed on a tripod vertically focused on the object, and a flash, or powerful light, which must be placed at different points in a constant radius around it. A sphere or two is placed next to the object, which reflects the position of the light and spatial information. The photos taken will then be processed in order to create a single RTI image using the RTBuilder-v2.02 software, a free software created by the Cultural Heritage Imaging (CHI) association. The objects will be analyzed using the RTI images and the RTIViewer software. The tripod and 100 mm macro lens that Arturo is using was purchased with funds from the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation (SENACYT).

James is doing his undergraduate work analyzing the manufacturing techniques used by the Coclé potters between the eighth and tenth centuries. The novel study method used by James is based on the macroscopic and mesoscopic analysis of the traces generated by potters during the manufacturing process.

James took ceramics to the University of Panamá, School of Dentistry, to do Cone Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT) to look at traces of manufacture in a previously selected group of El Caño ceramics to see patterns and the orientation of the patterns or orientations of the pastes' temper. This will allow him to deduce whether the artisans who made these ceramics used the warping or slab technique. The Faculty of Dentistry of the University of Panamá worked with James in the utilization of the equipment to conduct the CBCT.

Physical anthropologist Alexa Hancock, FEC-CIAI team member, is continuing her research into the dental morphologies and pathologies of the people interred in tombs T1, T2, T4 and T7 of El Caño. She is working with Dr. Jesús Herrerín, another physical anthropologist and FEC-CIAI member. Alexa is also going to be utilizing the same RTI method Arturo is using to document the pathologies of interest that have been identified.

Recently the FEC-CIAI created a YouTube channel. The idea is to share educational and information videos related to the work being conducted by the team. This channel is available to the general public and periodically will have new videos added.

The Ministry of Culture renewed the agreement with FEC-CIAI for another five years. This renewal will include some funding but unfortunately due to the pandemic, the economy in Panamá has been hurt and did not allow for full funding as needed to continue the preservation and investigation of the El Caño Archaeological Park and Museum as it should be. The plan for 2022 is to complete the excavation of tomb T3 that was begun three years ago. The tomb needs to be fully excavated, documented, and properly closed. Funding will continue to be needed to continue the conservation of the artifacts already recovered, what is recovered from tomb T3, maintain the artifacts that are currently on exhibit in the El Caño museum, and prepare a new exhibit.

Arturo cleaning an artifact beofre taking photos
Arturo cleaning an artifact beofre taking photos
Arturo taking photos for RTI
Arturo taking photos for RTI
Arturo cleaning an artifact beofre taking photos
Arturo cleaning an artifact beofre taking photos
The results of one CBCT scan on a ceramic
The results of one CBCT scan on a ceramic
Jun 1, 2021

Preserve and Research the El Cano Site

Searching for fingerprints in ceramics
Searching for fingerprints in ceramics

Due to the improved situation in Panama with COVID 19, additional in-person activities have opened up with some limits of occupation and the continued adherence to biosecurity protocols. Online technologies, such as Zoom, are also still being used.

In February, the Ministry of Culture announced it was reopening the museums it administers, such as the El Caño Archaeological Museum. The Ministry created an online portal to make reservations to visit the various museums to ensure ongoing compliance to the occupation percentage limitations currently in place

The National Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (SENACYT) hosted an online launch of the book “El Caño – Memorias de Excavación, Volumen I y II”. The book was made possible by the funding provided by SENACYT. Dr. Mayo discussed the work that was involved in writing the book, which documents the ten years of investigation of the El Caño Necropolis by Dr. Mayo and the Fundación El Caño team. Dr. Richard Cooke, archaeologist from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panamá and one of the first archaeologists to work in El Caño in the 1970s, gave commentary on the book and the exemplary work by Dr. Mayo and her team. 

In March, researchers from Fundación El Caño initiated a study to investigate how handicraft production was organized in ancient Coclé and to find out who were its protagonists. The archaeological materials being studied are the ceramics excavated in El Caño since 2008. The study method applied is paleo dermatology, which analyzes the size and variability of the epidermal grooves and ridges of the fingerprints in archaeological materials. In ceramics, the fingerprints of the artisans are sometimes imprinted in the clay during the manufacturing process, when the clay is still in a plastic state. Once dried and fired, these fingerprints can be preserved for thousands of years on the pottery, providing valuable information about the people who made the pottery.

The size of the grooves and epidermal ridges are different between men, women and children, so by studying them, researchers can understand who participated in the manufacturing process. One question this study hoped to answer is: Were women, as it is believed, the creators of the wonderful works in clay in ancient Coclé or were the men the ones who made these works of art.

One of the people working on this study is Yadixa Mayín, an anthropology student at the University of Panamá. She has been working to create a reference collection of fingerprints that can be applicable in archaeological studies. The work consists of making clay plates with a thickness of between 0.5 and 1mm from clay soil found near the El Caño site. These clay plates were marked and measured and will be dried for at least five days before firing. Once fired, they will be measured again and the results of the plastic (unfired) and fired plates will be compared. This analysis seeks to evaluate the shrinkage percentages of the clay and the results will be used in the study of archaeological pieces from El Caño.

During the month of March, various events occurred to recognize the contributions of women to Panamá. One even was organized by the City of Knowledge Foundation (Fundación Ciudad del Saber).  Dr Mayo was invited to present the seminar El Caño and its women: A look back at the women of the central isthmus region in pre-Columbian times (El Caño y sus mujeres: Una mirada en retrospectiva a la mujer de la región central istmo en época precolombina).

During March, the Panamanian newspaper La Estrella (The Star) conducted a search for the 25 most influential women in Panamá for 2021. Dr. Mayo was honored to be selected as one of the women for her contribution to Panamanian culture.

On April 28, 2021, the board of the Central Region Competitiveness Centre (CECOM) organized a visit to the El Caño Archaeological Park and Museum for Dr. Eduardo Ortega, director of the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation (SENACYT) and his team. Dr. Julia Mayo was invited to participate and was happy to explain the site to the group and discuss future plans related to future research by the Fundación El Caño team.

During 2021, the area of Natá de los Caballeros, of which El Caño is a part, is celebrating 499 years since its founding. The archaeological site of El Caño is approximately 500 years older than the founding of Natá and is full of history and invaluable objects related to the town. As such, it was also included in the Law 200 that declared Natá as Capital of Culture and National History. As part of the celebrations, the town of Natá organized the 2021 History and Tourism Congress of Coclé. Dr, Mayo was invited to be one of the presenters.

Earlier in the year, Fundación El Caño was contacted by the Reich Ancient DNA Laboratory at Harvard University Medical School about a project they are conducting to map the genetic history of mankind worldwide. They had invited the Fundación to participate and eight samples were provided from individuals found in El Caño. Unfortunately, the Fundación was recently informed that there was no viable DNA recoverable from the samples submitted. It was the determination of the Reich Ancient DNA Laboratory that the soil type and the hot, wet climate of El Caño did not allow for preservation of DNA and they did not recommend any further samples be taken. Researchers at the Fundación will continue to explore other options, such as an isotope analysis.

image of a 100s year old fingerprint
image of a 100s year old fingerprint
Creating clay plates
Creating clay plates
Presentation by Dr. Mayo in March
Presentation by Dr. Mayo in March
Dr.Mayo selected one of the 25 influencial women
Dr.Mayo selected one of the 25 influencial women
Dr. Mayo and SENACYT team in El Cano
Dr. Mayo and SENACYT team in El Cano
Drs. Mayo and Ortega viewing artifacts
Drs. Mayo and Ortega viewing artifacts
Explaining future plans to continue excavating
Explaining future plans to continue excavating
Online launch of "El Cano:Memorias de Excavacion"
Online launch of "El Cano:Memorias de Excavacion"
Feb 8, 2021

Preserving El Cano during a pandemic

The 2 volume book "El Cano:Memorias de Excavacion"
The 2 volume book "El Cano:Memorias de Excavacion"

Our new book "El Caño":  Memorias de Excavación" arrived at the Fundación laboratory on December 31st. The book documents our investigations and efforts to preserve the necroplis since 2008. Team members were on hand to receive the 1000 copies of the book that were printed. Prior to the books arriving, the public was able to reserve copies. Once the books had arrived, the team prepared the reserved orders for delivery. A new online store had been created where people are able to purchase the book and arrange for delivery, even in other countries. Additional items, such as DVDs of the documentary “The Mystery of the Cocle Culture: The El Dorado of Panama” are also available at the on line store: https://www.fundacionelcano.org/shop.

 

Fundación El Caño was contacted by the Reich Ancient DNA Laboratory at Harvard University Medical School about a project they are conducting to map the genetic history of mankind worldwide. The laboratory is currently focusing on the area of the world that includes Panamá. They invited the Fundación to participate in the project. The Reich Laboratory had developed a method of extracting DNA from the cochlea, which is a portion of a bone in the inner ear. In the course of their project, Reich Laboratory had determined the petrous bone preserves the DNA very well. The inner portion of these bones and the cement layer in the roots of the teeth are currently recognized as the best substrates for ancient DNA research. Both substrates show significantly higher endogenous DNA content (average 16.4% and 40.0% for teeth and petrosal bones, respectively) than the parietal skull bone (average 2.2%).

To date the Fundación El Caño has been unable to extract viable DNA from the samples taken from El Caño and so were happy to be able to participate in this project. Samples of the pars petrosa (portion of the human skull's temporalis also known as the petrosal bone) were selected from tombs T4 and T7 and sent to the Reich Laboratory.

 

Team members are also continuing research in other areas. For some months now they have been conducting research on the dental pathologies identified in the teeth recovered from tombs T1, T2, T4 and T7 of the Necropolis of El Caño. This study will identify the different existing pathologies and compare the differences observed in the different tombs, as well as those that may exist in the teeth of the main individuals (high status) and the companions (low status).

 

The efforts to preserve and conserve the materials recovered from El Caño continue. The raw materials of the artifacts recovered at the necropolis are stone, gold and copper, bone, fired clay, shell and resin. Their state of preservation depends on the nature of the material itself and also on the time they have been buried, their degree of exposure during most of the year to an acidic and humid environment with occasional humidity peaks, as well as the pressure of a terrain made up of expansive clays characterized by large changes in volume according to their humidity load. In addition, some were damaged by unnatural processes of anthropic origin during funerary rituals.

The large ceramics and dishes were found fragmented practically in their entirety, although all of them are complete and preserved their original geometry, which facilitates their reconstruction. The smaller ones in many cases were found whole. In general, their paints and engobes were found in good condition.

In the laboratory the team is continuing to care for and preserve the artifacts. They are dry cleaned using bamboo sticks. Then deionized water and absorbent cotton is used. We stop cleaning if we notice that we remove paint or engobe during the process. If it is broken, its fragments are consolidated (consolidation serves to prevent the fragments from breaking into smaller fragments) and glued using resins diluted in industrial acetone. First, the edges are vigorously brushed (cleaning). Then the pieces are soaked with a very diluted solution of B-72 with acetone (consolidation). To glue them, B-72 is used for small fragments and B-48N for larger and heavier ones. When finished, the artifacts are all stored in plastic boxes with Ethafoam and bubble wrap.

 

The El Caño Archaeological Park and Museum was recently reopened when the restrictions due to the pandemic were lifted. Carlos Mayo, with help from Alcides Castrellón, completed some maintenance of the museum exhibit cases and cleaned artifacts prior to opening to the public.

 

As part of Fundación El Caño´s on going efforts to share the story of El Caño and its importance, in January Doctor Julia Mayo participated in an Instagram Live interview hosted by Café Antropológico. During this live event the general public was able to message questions and have them answered in real time by Dr. Mayo.

 

In November, Dr. Julia Mayo was recognized by TrowelBlazers, an organization that celebrates women archaeologists, paleontologists and geologists who have been doing awesome work for far longer, and in far greater numbers, than most people realize. You can read more about her recognition at Trowel Blazers

Selecting the pars petrosa to send for DNA tests
Selecting the pars petrosa to send for DNA tests
Examples of pathologies in teeth being studied
Examples of pathologies in teeth being studied
Conserving and preserving artifacts
Conserving and preserving artifacts
Maintenance on the exhibit cases in El Cano
Maintenance on the exhibit cases in El Cano
Cleaning artifacts prior to museum reopening
Cleaning artifacts prior to museum reopening
Preparing sold books for shipping
Preparing sold books for shipping
 
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