Archaeology in the tropical forest is one of the last explored frontiers of prehistory. However, archaeological research is beginning to reveal the essential outlines of the fundamental importance of prehistoric tropical societies to cultural development in the New World . Using ceramics, stone tools, and plant and animal remains preserved at localities where people once lived and worked, STRI archaeologists seek to better understand the human history of the tropical forest since humans first entered Central America sometime during the last ice age to after Columbus ’ discovery of the New World . They inquire into the antiquity of human societies in tropical America : How did ancient people adapt to tropical plants and animals and, in turn, manipulated and altered these biotic communities? When and how did indigenous peoples make significant advancements to their material culture and ways of living (for example, the invention of pottery and the development of agriculture)? And why did they behave the way they did?

STRI archaeologists also reconstruct the webs of interpersonal and group relationships, which began as acephalous, egalitarian, and relatively isolated communities subsisting on local wild plants and animals, and which subsequently evolved into large and hierarchical social systems with advanced agricultural practices and far-flung economic networks.

Through the use of innovative techniques, STRI archaeologists study the cultural materials they recover from sites and relate them to human history and evolution. Phytolith and starch grain research, applied to broad reconstructions of past diet and ecological conditions in the humid tropics, was pioneered at the STRI.


Staff scientists researching Archaeology