Saturday, 19 March 2011

History of research

Barriles was the subject of early archaeological investigations by Dr. Matthew Stirling (late 1940s)[18], who did not publish extensively on his findings. Stirling was the archaeologist who recovered fragments of the Barriles statues and the large metate. Alain Ichon and Wolfgang Haberland (1950s and 1960s) were interested in studying the ceramics from Barriles, and collected samples from a few small excavations.

In the early 1970s, the region (and other areas in Western Panama) became the focus of the multi-year Adaptive Radiations project led by the Panamanian archaeologist Dr. Olga Linares [19]. The project involved several influential figures in modern Central American archaeology, including Dr. Richard Cooke, Dr. Anthony Ranere, and Dr. Payson Sheets. This project surveyed a portion of the Río Chiriquí Viejo valley and identified dozens of sites. They concluded that the Río Chiriquí Viejo was once home to substantial and complexly populations supported by maize agriculture. According to them, this was not as easily possible in the neighboring Caribbean lowlands, which did not exhibit the same complex social organization as the mountains. The accuracy and implications of last point has become the subject of considerable debate. Some collections of ceramics and lithics from this project are housed in Temple University. The site was then briefly revisited by Dr. Catherine Shelton in the 1980s, but the majority of her work dealt with sites at lower elevations. The Argentinian scholar Dr. Vidal Fraitts studied the Barriles statues during the 1990s, but did not conduct new fieldwork at the site.

The first decade of the 21st century has witnessed renewed interest in the site. A German-Panamanian team of archaeologists excavated the remains of a structure in 2001, which suggested to them that Barriles was probably a village rather than an empty ceremonial center or cemetery[20]. This large excavation block has been left open for tourists to visit today. Dr. Karen Holmberg (Brown University) sampled volcanic stata from this excavation [21],though much of her work was ultimately conducted near the modern towns of Boquete and Caldera on the other side of the volcano. Dr. Scott Palumbo (College of Lake County) recently conducted the most extensive work at the site by sampling different domestic sectors with hundreds of small excavations[22]. His work suggested that Barriles contained a far denser residential population compared to other sites in the region, and that the activities which drew people to the village were likely ceremonial feasts, perhaps associated with funerary rituals. Differences between social ranks, however, was subtle and not nearly as clear as the distinctions supposedly advertised in the double individual statues.

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