Boca del Drago archaeological site blossoms for young researchers
August 06, 2012
Aside from accounts of probable stopovers by Christopher Columbus in 1502 and pirate Henry Morgan en route to – and returning from – his 1671 sacking of Panama City
Aside from accounts of probable stopovers by Christopher Columbus in 1502 and pirate Henry Morgan en route to – and returning from – his 1671 sacking of Panama City, little was known about the early inhabitants of modernday Boca del Drago, on Isla Colon in Panama’s western Caribbean. That started changing ten years ago when a road grader exposed a wealth of archeological remains in the sleepy beachside hamlet. Since then, dozens of students led by UCLA archeologist and new STRI research associate Thomas Wake, have pieced together the basic history of the area as far back as 750 AD.
One of his former students is STRI fellow Jerry Howard, now a graduate student at Berkeley, who has been conducting his last season of field research at the Drago site for his doctoral dissertation on the creolization of the area. From tales of marooned and escaped slaves, local-grown pirates and cultural exchange with the local indigenous groups, Jerry has unearthed a comprehensive tale of African diaspora. “It’s pretty amazing,” says Jerry of the mixture of artifacts that have been found, while standing in the middle of four, one-meter square beachside excavations in July. Stone tools, animal bones, pottery shards, beads and glass bottles are among the remnants Jerry and Berkeley student colleagues working with him have found. They have also gathered oral and archival histories.
Jerry, who first came to Drago on a field course in 2005, was drawn to further explore the site partly because of his creole background; his family hails from the Muskogee region of the southeastern United States. He says his driving interest is how different cultures came together. Afro-Antilleans and indigenous groups melded language, cuisine and tradition, while abandoning some customs. “At one point in time there were 900 Afro- Antilleans living out here on this coast,” says Jerry. “What was life like between 1780 and 1899, before the banana plantation comes in?”