Human Sciences research at STRI is in the hands of a group of archaeologists and social anthropologists engaged in paleoecological, archaeological, historical, social, and cultural studies. Part of this research is carried out at its Center for Tropical Paleoecology and Archaeology (CTPA).
Through an arsenal of different techniques, some of which were pioneered at STRI (for example phytolith and starch grain analysis), CTPA terrestrial paleoecologists study changes in tropical communities over geologic time scales, as well as human occupation and manipulation of tropical forests over millennia. CTPA archaeological research aims at revealing the importance of prehistoric tropical societies in New World cultural development. Using ceramics, stone tools, and plant and animal remains, archaeologists and terrestrial paleoecologists work to understand the history of human occupation in Neotropical forests from the first colonization 15,000 to 11,000 years ago. Their research reveals how ancient tropical peoples extensively manipulated biotic communities and domesticated many tropical plants, providing the world with many of its more important food crops.
Social anthropologists at STRI study how individuals belonging to small-scale social formations (ethnic groups and farming communities) or to segments of nation-states (regional associations, rural settlements and city slums) define and mobilize material and symbolic resources in their interactions with each other and with their natural surroundings. They focus research on communities living in the tropical regions of the world, where physical parameters set broad limits and particular conditions on the kinds of lifeways that emerge.
Using a variety of techniques, their research shows how tropical forest peoples once survived and flourished in fragile, endangered environments. By studying the history and development of tropical regional economies and social formations, STRI archaeologists and anthropologists identify the conditions that lead either to the depletion of tropical forest resources, or to their more efficient and sustainable use.