Universiteit Leiden

nl en

LUF Grant for Natalia Donner for archaeological research at Darien Gap

Archaeologist Natalia Donner has been awarded a grant of €5,000 from the Bakels Fonds for her research Bridging the Gap: a historical ecological approach to human practices in the Darien Province, Panama. She will use this grant to conduct the first systematic archaeological survey in the region.

Land bridge

The region of Gran Darien in Panama is the only land bridge connecting North, Central, and South America, so it has played a crucial role in animal, plant, and human mobility since its formation 2.8 million years ago. In fact, the closure of the Panamanian Isthmus changed global climate at such a scale that scholars think it contributed towards the evolution of the human species. However, contemporary Western perceptions of the Gran Darien focus on fragmentation rather than integration.

The geographical inaccessibility of the Gran Darien has resulted in the only ‘gap’ in the Panamerican Highway, which stretches from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. The Gap’s double status as a modern political border between Panama and Colombia, as well as between South and Central America, has contributed to its association with disconnectivity. Perhaps due to this, no formal scientific archaeological research has ever been conducted in this region.


Although there is a dearth of archaeological scholarship within the Gran Darien, this area was the site of the first Spanish settlement on the Central American mainland. Since Panama has the largest amount of Paleoindian sites anywhere in Central America, this project will research processes from initial human settlements in the region to the interactions between the Andes, Southern Central America, the Caribbean archipelago, and Mesoamerica during pre-conquest times, through the European invasions and the concomitant violent cultural transformations that have configured contemporary social diversity. Addressing the historicity of human-environmental interactions over the longue durée will allow us to understand the shifting dynamics which shaped the only land bridge connecting the Americas.


Natalia Donner will work in collaboration with Leiden University; University of California, Berkeley (co-PI PhD student Lucy Gill); Technological University of Panama; and the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (Argentina).

This website uses cookies.  More information.