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Marie Kolbenstetter will explore the archaeology of southern Honduras with a NWO subsidy

Our master’s alumna Marie Kolbenstetter was recently awarded a NWO subsidy for a PhD in the Humanities. With this funding she will be able to continue her master’s thesis research on the archaeology of Honduras at our Faculty. ‘I’m really happy to have my own project. This has been two years in the making, and it wouldn't have been possible without the support from the faculty.’

A forgotten region

It is not often that you hear about an archaeological project in Honduras. ‘It is a bit of a forgotten region. There have been maybe less than a handful excavations in the vicinity of the Gulf of Fonseca.’ This gulf, which is Marie’s focus, is located in the south of Honduras, on its Pacific side. ‘Something that fascinated me in the first instance is the large research void of this area. It is a key area to understanding mobility, yet no one is looking at it.’ She laughs. ‘One of the largest bodies of works on this region is my master’s thesis.’

The Gulf of Fonseca in Southern Honduras. The arrow points at El Tigre Island, Marie Kolbenstetter's main research focus.

Local culture

Preparing for her new project, Marie has studied ceramic collections from 20 different sites. ‘This basically allowed me to identify gaps in our knowledge, and to formulate hypotheses. For instance, I noticed that even in sites that were seemingly well connected with the outside world, there was a resilient local culture.’ The island of El Tigre is a main focus in her investigation. ‘This island is known to be a crossroads of different cultures and trade routes. It would be interesting to see how local cultures materialise in the heart of this contact.’


Honduras has a long standing archaeological tradition, sparked, at first, by interest in the Mayas, who were living to the west. ‘For a long time, people have tried to trace the Mayan influence here.’ In the last 40 years, though, academic interest is shifting more to the local cultures. ‘This shift ties into globalisation theory, the different ways local cultures respond to the process of globalisation.’

El Tigre island is not only highly relevant in this respect, but its archaeological heritage is also under threat. ‘The choice of this island is also motivated due to being sold off to foreign investors. In the following years it will be developed in a port facility.’

Some beads found at a pilot investigation of a site in the Gulf of Fonseca region in Southern Honduras.


Excavations are part of the research project’s methods. ‘If corona permits, I want to do a survey next year, involving the local communities. We will be holding interviews to understand their knowledge of and their interest in the island's archaeology, and to locate potential sites.’ Based on this, the plan is to excavate three sites, in close cooperation with students and staff of the University of Tegucigalpa. ‘They have recently launched their own Archaeology programme, and I would like to invite their students to join this project.’

Marie Kolbenstetter’s PhD project is supervised by Prof.dr. Annelou van Gijn and Dr. Alex Geurds.

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