Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum

by Fundacion El Cano
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
Preserve the El Cano Archaeological Park & museum
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"
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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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Carlos Mayo take 360 photo in front of the museum
Carlos Mayo take 360 photo in front of the museum

Like many other organziations around the world, Fundación El Caño has been working remotely until very recently. Due to the improvements in the sitation relatied to Covid-19 in the Republic of Panama, late September the Ministry of Health authorized organziations such as ours to return to work as long as we were in compliance with all biosecurity requirements. Team members who are located in the capital of Panama have been working in the laboratory in the City of Knoweldge since that time. Team members not in Panama City continue to work from home.

Dr. Julia Mayo has been working with one of the Fundación´s interns, Katherine Guerra Cheva from the Autonomous University of Chiriqui (UNACHI),  who is writing her thesis in the midst of the pandemic. Dr. Mayo who is one of Katherine's thesis advisors. They have been meeting virtually on a weekly basis as Katherinne progresses on her thesis.

The project to create a virtual tour of the El Caño Archaeological Park and Museum has been progressing. Fundación team members Carlos Mayo and Alexa Hancock went to El Caño to take the 2D and 360 degree photographs the students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute needed to create the tour. The International School of Panama generously lent Fundación El Caño their 360 degree camera to use for the project. Alexa Hancock has met virtually with the students on a weekly basis on the project to give feedback and ensure the students had all of the materials and information they needed to complete the project.

During the quarantine period, team members have been working on various publications. One of the publications is a two volume book detailing the first ten years Dr. Mayo and her team have been excavating in El Caño. The intent is to have the publication availble in ealry 2021. Recently, an article written by team members María Martín-Seijo , Joeri Kaal , Carlos Mayo Torné and Julia Mayo Torné, entitiled Wood in Pre-Columbian Funerary Rituals: A Case Study from El Caño (Panama, AD 880–1020), was published in the magazine ENVIRONMENTAL ARCHAEOLOGY (https://doi.org/10.1080/14614103.2020.18293019).

Carlos Mayo taking 360 photo inside museum
Carlos Mayo taking 360 photo inside museum
Taking 360 photo inside Mound 3
Taking 360 photo inside Mound 3
Dr. Mayo and Katherinne in a virtual meeting
Dr. Mayo and Katherinne in a virtual meeting
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Dr. Hervas working with students on measurements
Dr. Hervas working with students on measurements

The Fundación El Caño team continued working in the field until the third week of March. In March, FEC team member Dr. Miguel Ángel Hervás joined the rest of the team in El Caño. He worked with the students giving them training on the proper way to take measurements and coordinates of the site and any relevant findings. He also showed them the proper way to diagram the site they are working on accoring to scale.

FEC team member Alexa Hancock worked with Katherinne, a student at the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí (UNACHI), on teeth that were on display in the museum from tomb T7. Katherinne is conducting a study on all the teeth from tomb T7 for her thesis.

The field season had to close early due to the Coronavirus affecting the Republic of Panamá. By the end of March, the Fundación El Caño team moved to working from home. All members are contibuting to a publication documenting the first ten years of the foundation´s investigation of the El Caño necropolis, covering 2008-2018. The team is continuing to work on this project and intend to have it ready and published by the end of this year.

Work is also continuing on the project to create a virtual representation of the El Caño Archaeological Park and Museum. This will enable the public to visit the museum exhibits and tour the site in an online virtual environment. Worcester Polytechnic Institute assigned a team of four students to the project. Virtual meetings have been held with the students and Footprint Possibilities, Inc. Footprint Possibilities, Inc. works to organize and seek funding for local Panamanian community efforts. These range from construction to educational opportunities and events that engage the community with the environment, children, cultures, health and education. They serve as the local point of contact for U.S. based student organizations wishing to work in Panama and were resposnible for connecting Worcester Polytechnic Institute with Fundación El Caño. A benefit of this project is, in the event the students are unable to travel to Panamá they will still be able to complete it from the United States as it is primatrliy a technical and software based project.

Even though the team cannot work in their office in the City of Knowledge, the laboratory and collection is still periodically cleaned and checked on by FEC president Dr. Julia Mayo to ensure the atifacts are safe and being kept in good condition.

Dr. Hervas showing how to diagram to scale
Dr. Hervas showing how to diagram to scale
Working on tomb T7 teeth
Working on tomb T7 teeth
Checking on the collection of artifacts at lab
Checking on the collection of artifacts at lab
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Excavation begins by the causeway
Excavation begins by the causeway

On January 10, 2020, Dr. Julia Mayo met with the new minister of the Panama Tourism Authority, Iván Eskildsen, and members of his team in the El Caño Archaeological Park. The Tourism Authority has been an ongoing partner and supporter of the work being done by Dr. Mayo and Minister Eskildsen pledged continued support to improve and preserve the museum and park.

The Fundación El Caño team began the 2020 field season on February 17th. They will be at the El Caño Archaeological Park through the end of March. The focus of the season is an excavation around the causeway of river rock that was used by the Coclé to access the necropolis from the Rio Grande. So far signs of a small structure, possibly a stand for a ritual fire, was uncovered. This year four students enrolled in Panamanian and European universities are working with the team of archaeologists.

In its March volume,  the magazine Latin American Antiquity will publish the results of one of our investigations which has served to explain the nature of the mortuary practices behind multiple burials at the El Caño site, Panama (archaeological tradition of "Gran Cocle", ca. 700-1000 AD). In the article, we test the hypothesis that these burials were the product of sumptuous funerals held after the death of the Rio Grande rulers and that these funerals included human sacrifices among other practices.  You can access the publication from this link: https://www.cambridge.org/…/09B511BAA3013845B5CB3DCB199E43A5.

 

Worcester Polytechnic Institute has agreed to work with the foundation on a new   project. The project involves students designing a complete virtual tour of the park and museum so the public can learn about the site even if they cannot travel there in person. This project will be ongoing throughout 2020.
Abner Alberda taking measurements
Abner Alberda taking measurements
Dr. Julia Mayo and Minister Ivan Eskildsen
Dr. Julia Mayo and Minister Ivan Eskildsen
Dr. Julia Mayo with students and team members
Dr. Julia Mayo with students and team members
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Fundacion El Cano

Location: Clayton, Panama - Panama
Website:
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Twitter: @Fundacion El Cano
Project Leader:
Alexa Hancock
Clayton, Panama
$7,650 raised of $90,000 goal
 
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