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An ARTery of EMPIRE. Conquest, Commerce, Crisis, Culture and the Panamanian Junction (1513-1671)

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - ArtEmpire (An ARTery of EMPIRE. Conquest, Commerce, Crisis, Culture and the Panamanian Junction (1513-1671))

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-06-30

This project analyzes a convergence of peoples and goods from four continents on the Isthmus of Panama during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It brings together archaeologists, geneticists, historians, anthropologists and computer engineers to produce new knowledge about pre-Hispanic as well as early modern individuals. Data from sources rarely considered together enable the team to explore new methodological approaches to such questions as the conquest of America, the seventeenth-century crisis, and the biological and cultural impact of early globalization.
ArtEmpire’s social contribution emerges from an inclusive, pluralistic approach to the past that seeks to overcome opposing historiographical legacies of euro-centricism, on the one hand, and hispano-phobia, on the other. Based on sources previously unavailable or underexplored, it aims to recover the agency and experiences of the Africans, Americans and Europeans whose lives ended on an artery of Spanish imperial expansion. In order to maximize its social impact, ArtEmpire’s database will become accessible around the world 500 years after the foundation of the city of Old Panama, when a documentary about the project will also be released.
The historical and archaeological teams have recovered human remains and cultural artefacts as well as documentation, more than doubling the material previously available during ArtEmpire’s first 30 months. Excavations in Old Panama’s Cathedral and to the south of its Main Plaza in 2017 and 2018 have increased the number of colonial individuals rescued and subject to bioanthropological analysis to 233. At the same time, historical research in Seville’s Archivo General de Indias, Lima’s Archivo General de la Nación and Archivo Arzobispal and other repositories has brought a wealth of relevant data to light. The researchers have applied the most rigorous criteria possible in the collection and analysis of material, which has been subjected to cross-disciplinary scrutiny. The main result entails a dynamic understanding of Old Panamá’s population and the changes that it underwent from 1513 through 1671, with particular attention to opportunities for social mobility and cultural integration for indigenous and African women as well as other actors under-represented in traditional historical accounts.

ArtEmpire’s first scientific meeting, held in Panamá from 20-22 April 2017, enabled all project participants to present and discuss their first results and to receive feedback from external experts. Following this meeting, the first samples were extracted for ancient DNA and isotopic analyses, which have yielded interesting and important preliminary results: the whole genome of ancient individuals from pre-Hispanic Panama has been sequenced for the first time, and two clearly-differentiated groups of consumers (as indicated by their d13C isotope ratios) have been identified among the colonial individuals.
The project will continue to document the presence and importance of under-studied agents on the early colonial isthmus of Panama, with particular attention to the alimentary, cultural and economic strategies that different sectors of the population pursued. ArtEmpire’s unusual combination of historical, bioanthropological, genetic and isotopic methods will enable the project to validate, to nuance (as necessary), and, in general, to clarify the findings generated within each discipline.

ArtEmpire plans to place its database on line and to release a documentary coinciding with the 500-year commemorations of the foundation of Old Panama in August 2019. Its second international meeting, planned in Seville, Spain, for November 2019, will feature papers developed in inter-disciplinary teams. These papers build on the team’s work in press and in progress, and extend its interdisciplinary reassessment of America’s conquest and early colonial experience.