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Archaeology of the Mosquito Coast of Honduras
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Current Research

The information presented here is derived from the extensive research conducted by Dr. Christopher Begley in the jungles of the Mosquito Coast since 1991. This work, as all research, built on previous investigations in the 1930's, 1950's, and 1970's, and owes a great debt to these earlier pioneering archaeologists.

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Dr. Begley's research is summarized in his doctoral dissertation (University of Chicago 1999) and in various publication in English and Spanish. He has documented over 200 sites in the Mosquito Coast and excavated at more than a dozen. His work has been featured in two documentaries - 'Cave of the Glowing Skulls' which aired on the Discovery Channel and 'Trips Money Can't Buy with Ewan McGregor' which aired on the BBC, The Travel Channel, The Learning Channel, and the Discovery Channel.

Ewan McGregor and Chris Begley
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From the documentary 'Trips Money Can't Buy'

            The first archaeological investigations in this region were those conducted as general, non-systematic surveys of northeastern or eastern Honduras.  Herbert Spinden carried out surveys along the Mosquito Coast of Honduras and Nicaragua in the 1920s .   Junius Bird also conducted brief investigations for the American Museum of Natural History.  Doris Stone and William Duncan Strong were other primary figures in this early period.  This early work offered a preliminary view of the cultural affiliation of the prehistoric populations of eastern Honduras.  Kidder II, Ekholm, and Stromsvik worked in the area in the 1950s.  Jeremy Epstein analyzed materials from these earlier excavations, creating an enduring ceramic sequence for the region.  He identified two horizons, Selin (AD 300-1000) and Cocal (AD 1000-1525), still utilized today.

            The first systematic work in the area was conducted by Dr. Paul Healy in the 1970s.  Healy investigated materials from the Cuyamel Caves, near Trujillo, and excavated in the Aguan Valley and nearby areas of the north coast.  His research questions reflected the economic/ecological emphasis of the times, focusing on questions of subsistence.  Additionally, several survey projects took place in the mid- to late-1970s and early 1980s in eastern Honduras.  Archaeological surveys were conducted in the Bay Islands of Honduras by Jeremy Epstein in 1975, marking his first visit to Honduras.  His dissertation, written 18 years before his first trip to Honduras, was based on collections brought back to the US by Strong and others from earlier projects and remains one of the most valuable sources on eastern Honduran ceramics.

            Interest in eastern Honduras increased in the years following Healys initial systematic work.  In the late seventies, Dr. Edwin Shook visited the Rio Negro area, conducting a non-systematic survey.  His recommendation that two sites receive further investigation encouraged the first of two English expeditions in the area.  These projects, Operations Drake and Raleigh, identified more than 80 sites along the Rio Plátano and Rio Paulaya in the departments of Gracias a Dios and Colon,although maps were not produced for all of these.  This was followed in 1985 by a project of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History focusing on the documentation of two large sites at Las Crucitas, near the confluence of the Rio Wampú and the Rio Aner in the department of Olancho.  The sites of Las Crucitas are among the largest, most complex sites recorded to date in eastern Honduras.

            Other small projects continued throughout the late eighties and early nineties.  In 1988, a Peace Corps volunteer recorded eight sites in the project area around the modern town of Dulce Nombre de Culmí.  Site inventory forms and maps were produced for some of these, and some surface collections were made.  In 1990, Vito Veliz of the IHAH conducted a brief survey of the same area, identifying five sites.  Sharer et al. (1987) conducted a survey along the north coast of Honduras, between La Ceiba and Trujillo.  Seventeen prehistoric sites were identified, including a site with a probable ballcourt, which is dated to Period V.  Nancy Gonzales and Charles Cheek recorded several sites in the mid-1980s during the Garifuna Project focusing on the North Coast of Honduras.  This project focused primarily on the 19th century settlement patterns of the Garifuna, or Black Caribs, along the North Coast of Honduras, testing the hypothesis that the availability of wage labor, rather than access to maritime resources, influenced the location of settlement.

            Dr. Christopher Begley initiated his work in 1991 and marked the beginning of a strong commitment by the Honduran government to support work in eastern Honduras and other relatively unknown areas of the country.  He has worked there for the last dozen years, recording over 200 sites and writing a doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago that represents the most extensive work to date in the region.

            Interest in eastern Honduras increased dramatically in recent years following some extraordinary discoveries that received much popular attention.  The most spectacular of these was the discovery of an undisturbed ossuary in Talgua Cave near Catacamas, Olancho.  The caves contained materials 3,000 year old, including ceramics similar in some respects to the Cuyamel Cave material excavated by Healy in the 1970s.  While the Talgua Archaeological Project has focused on the caves, it has also included other aspects.  A survey by Dr. Boyd Dixon of the Talgua drainage and excavations at the Talgua Village site, ON 22, were conducted by Dr. George Hasemann and Dr. Begley. 

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