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Project opportunities for internships at STRI


Project: Curation of STRI's legacy archaeology collections

Project title

Curation of STRI's legacy archaeology collections

View of one of the storage and work spaces in the Naos archaeology lab
Photo credit: Nicole Smith-Guzmán

Mentor name

Dr. Nicole Smith-Guzmán, STRI Archaeology Curator
Contact information: SmithN@si.edu


Naos Marine Laboratory

Project summary and objectives

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s (STRI) Naos Archaeology Lab houses approximately 1,800 boxes of archaeological materials (faunal remains, ceramics, lithics, and sediments), as well as archaeological human remains comprising over 600 individuals and a modern faunal reference collection of approximately 2,500 specimens. These collections have been utilized in countless research projects over the past 50 years, led mostly by STRI staff scientists Olga Linares, Richard Cooke, and Dolores Piperno and their colleagues. As one of the largest and most diverse archaeological collections in Panama, the ongoing analysis of these materials has offered critical learning opportunities for both local and international students and young researchers, and greatly improved knowledge of Panama's prehispanic human populations and their environments. Similarly, the modern faunal reference collection is used frequently by international researchers seeking to identify archaeological faunal remains due to its size and the wide range of tropical organisms it contains, particularly marine fish. However, as the size of the archaeological collections have expanded over several decades, the need for dedicated collections maintenance and curation has become critical. This project seeks to address this critical need by working to improve both the physical and digital inventory, organization, and preservation of the archaeology collections held at STRI.

As long-term stewards of thousands of pieces of Panamanian cultural heritage, STRI has an ethical obligation and responsibility to care for its legacy archaeological collections according to international standards of proper collections management and curation. This project seeks to create and implement a new organizational system to ensure that this important stewardship at STRI meets international standards for collections care and to maintain the preservation of these archaeological objects for future generations. Improving the organization and accessibility of both physical and digital archaeological collections at STRI will simultaneously improve the ability to execute new archaeological research projects by both STRI staff and visiting researchers alike.

Currently, the Naos Archaeology Lab is in the process of putting into action two phases of the broader plan to overhaul the physical and digital organization and storage systems for the important cultural patrimony items that we care for. This process includes a first phase of physical re-organization of the space (i.e., reshuffling furniture, rehousing and relabeling deteriorated collections housing, repatriating non-Panamanian archaeological materials) and a second phase of optimizing access and conservation conditions (i.e., inventorying, digitizing, database creation).

The objectives of this project are to (1) create a systematic, uniform digital inventory of the archaeological collections that records important aspects including type, provenience, and physical location of the materials within the laboratory storage spaces, (2) retrofit furniture arrangement and the existing housing (e.g., boxes and bags) containing these objects, and (3) perform routine maintenance of these physical containers.

Mentorship goals

Interns will work under the supervision of the STRI Archaeology Curator and will be trained in the methods and protocols that we will put into place for this revitalization project. The initial phase of this work (estimated to take around three months) will focus on the physical re-organization of materials and cabinets in the Naos lab and will not require in-depth training. Later work will focus on the systematic re-housing and inventory of materials. This opportunity will provide these young archaeologists with important professional training and development for future careers in archaeology in Panama.

Desired Background

Interested candidates that meet the desired background may contact Dr. Nicole Smith-Guzman via email at: SmithN@si.edu to express interest before applying to the STRI General Internship Program.

List of suggested readings

Cooke, Richard G. 2005. Prehistory of Native Americans on the Central American land-bridge: colonization, dispersal and divergence. Journal of Archaeological Research 13:139–187.

Cooke, Richard. 2016. Orígenes, Dispersión y Supervivencia de las Sociedades Originarias de la Sub-Región istmeña de América: Una Reseña en el Marco de la Historia Profunda. In Memoria: Encuentro el Mar del Sur: 500 Años Después, una Visión Interdisciplinaria, edited by Marcela Camargo, pp. 25–72. Editorial Universitaria Carlos Manuel Gasteazoro, Universidad de Panamá, Panama City.

Cooke, Richard G., Luis A. Sánchez H., Nicole Smith-Guzmán, and Alexandra Lara-Kraudy. 2019. Panamá prehispánico. In Nueva Historia General de Panamá, Vol. I, edited by Alfredo Castillero Calvo. Editora Novo Art, Panama City.

De Gracia, Guillermina Itzel, and Tomás Mendizábal. 2014. Los Museos Estatales Panameños: Su Situación Actual. Canto Rodado 9:1–25.

Martín, Juan Guillermo and Tomás E. Mendizábal, editors. 2021. Mucho Más que un Puente Terrestre: Avances de la Arqueología en Panamá. Senacyt, Panama City.

Mendizábal, T. and Martín, J.G. 2019. Richard Cooke: pasado, presente y futuro de la arqueología panameña. Cuadernos de Antropología 29(2):1–9.

Smith-Guzmán, Nicole, Luis Sánchez Herrera, and Richard Cooke. 2021. Patterns of Disease and Culture in Ancient Panama: A Bioarchaeological Analysis of the Early Graves at Cerro Juan Díaz. Bioarchaeology International 5(1):78–95.

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