Research Info

STRI archaeologists excavate a shell midden at Cerro juan Díaz

STRI archaeologists excavate a shell midden and opther features exposed by looter's pits at Cerro juan Díaz, on the central Pacific coast of Panama

By reconstructing the past, scientists can better understand the present and predict the future. To understand present global change, research on past environments is critical to distinguish short-term fluctuations from long-term directional trends.

The Center for Tropical Paleoecology and Archaeology (CTPA) brings together scientists from traditionally separate fields, in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of past events and processes, and to create predictive models for the future. CTPA research spans millions of years, from the rise of the Isthmus, through the Ice Age, to the present.

CTPA paleoecologists seek climate and community records of the past in minute fossils deposited in sediments of ancient lakes and coastal seas. The sequence of pollen and phytoliths in lake cores yields the history of terrestrial climate and human ecology, while other microfossils in marine samples provide climatic records of coastal environments. Using the rich geological and fossil records of the Isthmus, scientists reconstruct marine environments and communities that existed before, during and after the separation of the oceans.

CTPA archaeologists reconstruct the settlement patterns and subsistence activities of ancient human cultures and their environmental consequences. These paleoenvironmental studies have powerful implications regarding the consequences of present patterns of agricultural development, deforestation, and overpopulation in the American tropics.

Cubita style jar

Cubitá style jar: Pre-Columbian shell ornaments fashioned out of Spondylus shells, compared with specimens of Spondylus calcifer and S. princeps from the Pacific coast of Panama. The ornaments were found in large numbers in mortuary features at Cerro juan Díaz