Fire pit built for the replicas
Over the past months the team at the El Caño Foundation (FEC) have been busy with their continued research of materials recovered from the El Caño necropolis and the dissemination of information about their findings.
Research continues regarding the pyrite mirrors recovered from tomb T7 and tomb T4. One objective was to identify the materials the mirrors were made from. A sample of what appears to be remains of tesserae (small polygonal-shaped lamellar plates) adhered to the mirror was analyzed from both mirrors. The mirrors are composed of a sandstone base which are fragmented. Adhered to them was a very oxidized cream-colored material with shiny golden dots that in some points appears to be tesserae.
As in the case with the other El Caño mirrors analyzed previously, the samples of what appear to be tesserae remains contain high amounts of sulfur and iron, in addition to other compounds such as carbon. The carbon can be analyzed using Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS), which can date very small samples of material.
Another investigation involves researchers working on replicating ancient pottery making techniques using local clays. One technique the researchers used to replicate ceramics was the the coiling technique. This was used to replicate a Guácimo type vessel, more than 1000 years old, found at the El Caño site. Other manufacturing techniques used to recreate ceramics included warping or hollowing. These techniques were used to create a small group of ceramic replicas of the forms found in El Caño, such as long-necked globular jars or small pots with a curved rim
After creating various replicas, the next step consisted of firing the ceramic pieces. Before firing, the ceramics must go through a drying process whose time depends largely on the environmental conditions of humidity and temperature. The pre-Hispanic ceramics found in archaeological sites such as El Caño were not fired in kilns, firing was done in the open air. These techniques are still used today in nearby pottery communities in Coclé, such as in El Cortezo.
To fire the ceramics a small bonfire is made with very dry wood to facilitate combustion. The ceramics are placed around the fire to dry the pieces well and avoid a sudden thermal shock that causes breakage and spoil the samples. Once the flames die down, the pieces are placed directly on the bed of embers and ash: More wood is then added to the fire by stacking it directly on top of the ceramics and making sure that the combustion is as homogeneous as possible. Once the firing is done, which takes approximately four hours, the pieces are left to cool and are removed from the pyre and cleaned.
Petrographic analyses were carried out on sculptures from the MARTA Museum that are in temporary custody for analysis at the El Caño Foundation. The analyses were carried out with the technical collaboration of Dr. Eric Gutierrez, an expert in petrology and professor at the Technological University of Panama (UTP). More than thirty years ago, Dr. Gutierrez worked, together with Roberto Miranda, geologist, and employee of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), in the analysis of the rocks of the stone alignments of El Caño. The sculptures originally came from El Caño. Two of them are in the shape of people, and the other two are animals (an armadillo and a feline) placed on a pedestal. The results of the analysis indicate that, in all cases, the sculptures are made from dacite, a volcanic igneous rock with high iron content that can be found in the area surrounding El Caño.
The FEC team, including interns Katherinne and James, participated in interviews, conferences and made presentations to discuss the investigations being conducted by the El Caño Foundation.
Dr. Julia Mayo was interviewed with two other female Spanish scientists working in Panama for the magazine, “España”, which is published by the Spanish Embassy. In the interview Dr. Mayo discussed how she began working in El Caño in 2008, her work and the findings she and her team have made since.
Dr. Carlos Mayo participated in the "IV Congress of Science: Research Contributions for the Sustainability of the Science, Technology and Innovation System", presenting the paper entitled "Archaeometric characterization of the pigments used in the decoration of pre-Hispanic ceramics from the site of El Caño (8th-10th century A.D.)". The congress is organized by the "Universidad de Panamá" and the "Vicerrectoría de Investigación y Postgrado" at the regional university center of Los Santos. The lecture, given by Dr. Carlos Mayo, coordinated this interesting research on pigments, with the support of Geraldín Martinez and Rolando Gittens (INDICASAT-AIP collaborators) and Matthieu Ménager of the Center for Mexican and Central American Studies.
Both Doctor Julia Mayo and Doctor Carlos Mayo are members of the National Investigation System (SNI) of the National Secretariat of Science, Technology, and Innovation (SENACYT). They participated in a meeting hosted by SENACYT for the recognition of the SNI investigators and a forum for an exchange of information and ideas.
FEC intern James Chaves, a student at the University of Panama, Humanities Faculty-Anthropology School, successfully defended his undergraduate thesis “Characterization of manufacturing processes in late ceramics from El Caño (780-1020 A.D.)” during a presentation at the University of Panama.
As a part of science week, James also made a presentation about El Caño and other archaeological sites in Panama to an audience of students at the International School of Maria Inmaculada. The students heard about anthropology and archeology, learning about the most important archaeological sites in the country and current research in archeology currently under development.
Katherinne Guerra, who is currently studying for her master’s degree at the University of Alcalá in Spain, participated in a virtual conference hosted by the “Laboratory of Osteological Materials Eh-Usac”. Katherinne presented “Use and unction of the perforated teeth of El Caño (775-1015 AD), Coclé, Panama”.
As a part of their community outreach, members of the FEC participated in a weekend Urban Market at the City of Knowledge where the FEC laboratory is located. Members were present to meet the general public, answer questions about El Caño and the investigations the group is conducting, as well as general questions about archaeology. Items produced by the FEC, such as the most recent book “El Caño: Memorias de Excavación” were also available for purchase.
An ongoing task and responsibility of any archaeological organization is the maintenance and control of the archeological materials in their custody. Recently the FEC has been reviewing the status of the materials and their packaging. This project includes examining the condition of the storage bags and checking the labels that identify each artifact. Alexa Hancock began this work with the human bones excavated from tomb T1. Where labels or bags were in poor condition, they were replaced. New, thicker “ziplock” bags were purchased and used to repack the remains to reduce the possibility of the bones tearing the bags. Where possible, the bags are then packaged in hard plastic containers that better protect them and reduce the storage space required. If materials without proper identification are found, Alexa identifies them whenever possible and updates the information on the label and in the central registry. All materials are also photographed to document the current condition of the bones before repacking.
Pyrite mirror tomb T7
original Guacimo type vessel
replica of Guacimo type vessel after firing
Dr. Carlos Mayo presenting at science conference
James Chaves defending his undergraduate thesis
Alexa Hancock repacking T1 materials