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Archaeologist Natalia Donner receives an award from Panamanian Embassy

In the context of Panama’s independence month, the Panamanian Embassy in the Kingdom of The Netherlands decided to recognize Natalia Donner’s contributions to the study of Panamanian history and culture, as well as her role in a massive repatriation project.


In 2022 Donner worked on the repatriation of 343 ceramic vessels. ‘These pots were donated to the Leiden Museum of Ethnology a few years ago by a private collector,’ Donner explains. ‘The museum asked the Faculty for support, and Martin Berger and Alexander Geurds contacted me. Together we supervised a master’s student to record the collection, and then initiated the collaboration with the Panamanian Embassy for the repatriation process, which materialised in August 2022.’


In addition to the repatriation, Donner has been running a research project in the Darién region for years. ‘My project in Darién had amazing results in the summer of 2022.’ The project saw the participation of six Leiden University students, plus researcher Devon Graves, the Mexican ethnographic film collective Espora Media, and of course my co-director, PhD candidate Lucy Gill from the University of California, Berkeley. ‘During this season, we recorded the first stone stelae with anthropomorphic design ever registered in the region, as well as monumental architecture constructed with mollusks. Since we work under the Indigenous Archaeologies framework, results will start being published this year, in the framework of a formal agreement of previous informed consent that we have signed with the local Indigenous communities.’


Donner was astonished when she learned about the reward. ‘I love archaeology, I feel archaeology has an enormous debt towards Indigenous communities and, as a person born in Latin America, I am passionate about participating in repatriation processes. I felt honored but at the same time I felt a bit ashamed, because I always work in a team, so I feel that the recognition should go to all team members (both local and non-locals) equally.’

About the project

Darién Profundo is a multidisciplinary project that aims to look at the deep history of the Darién region of Panama, the only land bridge connecting South and Central America. ‘We look at how humans have interacted with the environment from the late Pleistocene through to the present. While we look at Darién through historical ecological lenses, we have a great commitment toward Indigenous cultural and territorial sovereignty. Something we have addressed in our first publication.’

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