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
Creating clay plates
Presentation by Dr. Mayo in March
Dr.Mayo selected one of the 25 influencial women
Dr. Mayo and SENACYT team in El Cano
Drs. Mayo and Ortega viewing artifacts
Explaining future plans to continue excavating
Online launch of "El Cano:Memorias de Excavacion"