Nexuses of interchange are often loci for awkward articulations involving both humans and nonhumans, creating frictions that manifest materially. How can centering these sites with deep histories of amplified frictions help us rethink the possible dynamics of encounter in order to chart more sustainable futures for ourselves and our more-than-human kin? This project investigates human-environment interconnectivities in the socially complex, ecologically variable landscape of Lower Central America through an exploration of one aquatic ecosystem: the Gulf of San Miguel watershed in Panama. Watery environments in particular are intriguing to think with because of their inherent lack of bounds, as water conforms to the shape of its surrounding topography but also recursively shapes that topography through its continuous traversing of the landscape. Through cyclical fluctuations occurring over multiple temporal scales, currents create and dismantle multispecies communities — of which humans are an integral constituent. Although the particular nodes and degrees of connectivity within this ecosystem have changed significantly over the course of its occupation, the waterway itself has persisted as a constant facilitator of these relationships. Defining a study area based on this type of tangible, enduring medium allows for situated continuity, with geography rather than culture as the constant variable. My research investigates the use and management of communal resources by communities with different lifeways connected through waterway transport. By taking a historical ecology approach, it considers how social practices contributed to or detracted from long-term sustainability of these ecosystems. I raise questions about asymmetric control and access. What resources were targeted? Were management of these ecosystems and access to their fauna contested? My research employs anthropological and ecological methodologies in tandem to explore how inherited traditions and environmental conditions coalesce in localities defined by movement to produce unique, cross-cultural developments.
Lucy Gill is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley and co-director of Darien Profundo, an interdisciplinary, community-based, anthropo-ecological project in the Darien Province of Panama. She has previously carried out archaeological research in Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua and New Mexico and is a National Geographic Explorer. She completed her undergraduate degree in 2015 from Columbia University, majoring in Anthropology and Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology.
My dissertation project, entitled “Bridging borderlands: tracing historical ecologies of water in Lower Central America,” explores human-environment relations from an archaeological and historical ecological perspective. Specifically, I employ geoarchaeological and zooarchaeological methods, in combination with iconographic analysis and contemporary ecological data, to investigate the complex relationships that humans have and continue to engage in with nonhuman animals.