2022 has started out as a busy year for The El Caño Foundation - Center for Archaeological Research of the Isthmus, FEC-CIAI (Fundación El Caño-Centro de Investigaciones Arqueológicas del Istmo). Three students are working with the Foundation for the 2022 field season. James and Arturo, both students of the Faculty of Humanities, School of Anthropology of the University of Panama and Katherine, a student at the Autonomous University of Chiriquí. These students are learning how to conduct field work and also developing the practical skills needed in their academic and future professional lives. For example, when working at the lab of the FEC-CIAI one morning, the subject of digital signatures came up. Dr. Carlos Mayo explained to James and Arturo that a digital signature is a cryptographic mechanism that allows the receiver of a digitally signed message to identify the originator of the message (authentication of origin and non-repudiation), and to confirm that the message has not been altered since it was signed by the originator. They learned the uses of digital signatures and how they can obtain one.
In January, a new agreement was signed between the FEC-CIAI and the Panamanian Ministry of Culture which guarantees the continuity of the excavations at the El Caño Archaeological Park through 2024. With part of the funds received through this agreement, the Foundation purchased a "Total Station” that will be used to document the topography of the site and its contents. La Casa del Topografo, where the equipment was purchased, offered researchers and students of the FEC-CIAI a course on its proper use. A "Total Station” is a piece of topographic equipment that combines an electromagnetic instrument to measure distances and an electronic theodolite to measure angles. At El Caño they are used to draw the contours of the stratigraphic units (archaeological contexts) and to accurately mark the position of artifacts found in the tombs. This enables researchers to later reconstruct the site virtually.
The FEC-CIAI have been doing some repairs at the archaeological park to facilitate visitor access to the museum and the excavation site. A handrail has been installed on the stairs leading to the museum in order to make the stairs safer. This is particularly important as we have not yet been able to raise the funds to build a ramp. At the excavation site the old perimeter fence has been replaced by a new one. The purpose of the fence is to ensure visitors do not walk into an unstable area of the excavation and potentially injure themselves. Additionally, we made repairs to the bathrooms to ensure their usabilty for both the staff and visitors.
The FEC-CIAI reprinted the two large visitor information panels at the El Caño Archaeological Park because over the years they had weathered, loosing their color. They were also relocated. One of them, with general information about the site and other cultural, geographic, and archaeological context data, has now been placed near the entrance. The other one, with information about the tombs, is located in the viewing area of the excavation.
In February, we began habilitation work in the area proposed for this season’s excavation. As no excavations had taken place for two years the area had to be assessed and organized for the 2022 field season. This work included activities such as replacing dirt filled bags to secure the walls and building platforms for accessing the lower areas of the excavation. This season’s initial work was on tomb T3. Working with the students, we drew the outline of the excavation and lines to delimit the area where the bags, with which T3 and its surroundings were covered last year, would be extracted. The team was concerned about the stability of the roof canopy over the excavation site. The roof supports are anchored in concrete footings and excavation might have undermined them. We drew the outline of an unstable fill to the north of the excavation and the footings to measure the distance between them. Some of them are very close to the northern edge of the fill and a gully located to the east. As work continued, another tomb, T9, was identified. This tomb was even closer to, and eventually identified as exceeding, the area under the roof where we already had safety concerns. So a decision was made to remove two of the roof supports and replace them with an "A” frame.
During this time, students Katherine, Arturo, and James worked with the Total Station to draw a plan of the site's stone structures. They also worked with the team archeologists, receiving training on subjects such as ceramic identification and reconstruction, bone identification, stratigraphy, and excavation structure practices.
Teachers from the School of Spain visited the Archaeological Park of El Caño. As part of our continued outreach program, Drs. Julia Mayo, Carlos Mayo, and Miguel Ángel Hervás presented a copy of the two volume box-set book "El Caño: Memorias de Excavación" for the school´s library.
The field season ended the last week of April due to the arrival of the rainy season. Work will continue in the laboratory to document and conserve all of the artifacts recovered during the 2022 season.
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