Research Projects


Dr. Richard Cooke

Research Interests: Archaeology of New World tropics; long-term history of Native American peoples of Panama and neighboring areas; archaeozoology (especially fishing in the eastern tropical Pacific); archaeology and education in Latin America .

Current Research: Has conducted field research in Panama since 1969, concentrating on the “Gran Cocle” culture area. His laboratory houses a large vertebrate skeleton collection, which specializes in marine fish from the eastern tropical Pacific.

Since 1992 Dr. Cooke has been directing a long-term field project at Cerro Juan Diaz near the Parita Bay on the central Pacific coast. This research, which employs several Costa Rican, Colombian and Panamanian specialists, attempts to reconstruct the social organization, economy and commercial relations of this important Native American settlement occupied between about 200 BC and AD 1600.

Dr. Cooke collaborates with Dolores Piperno (STRI), Lynette Norr (University of Florida, Gainesville) and Anthony Ranere (Temple University) on a cross-disciplinary study of human adaptations to Panamanian forests and coastal habitats.

Dr. Dolores Piperno

Research Interests: include the antiquity and character of prehistoric human adaptations in the lowland tropical regions of the world, together with the biogeographical and climatological history of the tropical biome. Her theoretical orientation is heavily wedded to evolutionary and ecological approaches to reconstruction of human behavior, particularly behavioral ecology. She uses plant microfossils, including starch grains, phytoliths, and pollen to investigate research problems, which currently center on the origins and dispersals of tropical forest agriculture and the nature of the environmental changes that marked the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene period.

Current Research: involves studies of phytoliths, starch grains, and pollen from sites that were occupied at an early time in the humid, lowland Neotropics. They are investigating these sites in order to come to some understanding of subsistence and horticulture during the late Pleistocene and early through middle Holocene periods. Starch grains appear to be well preserved on the surfaces of ancient ground stone tools, as well as in the sediments attached to the artifacts. Pollen may also be preserved in early sites. In addition to developing protocols for isolating and directly dating starch and pollen grains from tools and sediments, they are building a modern reference collection of these microfossils. Phytolith research continues with the development of methods to identify Cucurbita and other important economic species in the archaeological record. They are also studying the microfossil records from ancient lakes and swamps, in order to build a coherent and solid data base bearing on the natural and human-induced changes in vegetation that have occurred in the lowland tropics since ca. 20,000 years ago.

Dr. Carlos Jaramillo

Research Interests: My research investigates the causes, patterns, and processes of tropical biodiversity at diverse scales of time and space. I intend to address questions from a paleontological perspective (mainly using fossil pollen, spores, plant megafossils, and dinoflagellates), a point of view that is largely needed to understand and predict the behavior of biota in tropical ecosystems. I am also interested in Cretaceous-Cenozoic biostratigraphy of low latitudes, developing methods for high-resolution biostratigraphy and the paleobiogeography of Tethys.

Current research:

  1. We are working actively in several questions: Are macroevolutionary patterns of tropical forest correlated to climatic perturbations?
  2. How did different scales of space and time affect those patterns and their underlying processes?
  3. Where and when is the oldest Tropical Rainforest, How different was from modern Rainforests? Has always been so diverse?
  4. What is the climate of the tropics during major global warming?
  5. What are the patterns of plant diversification in the Neotropics throughout the last 70 million years Developing techniques for Quantitative biostratigraphy
  6. What kinds of historical conditions create biodiversity hotspots?
  7. How do tropical floras respond to the Cretaceous-Tertiary bolide impact? Are Cretaceous - Tertiary tropical forest more or less diverse than modern tropical forests?
  8. Has a vegetation diversity latitudinal gradient been present since the origin of the angiosperms?
  9. Modeling tropical plant diversification throughout macroevolutionary times
  10. A high resolution Cretaceous to Tertiary biostratigraphy for northern South America
  11. Developing models for foraminifera biostratigraphy and paleobathymetry for the Colombia Basin

Staff Scientists