El Corazón del Caribe research project

Principle investigators


Collaborative Partners



  • British Academy
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
  • British Cave Research Association
  • NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory
  • Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit
  • Herb Allen III and Monica de la Torre
  • Daniel Shelley
  • British Airways

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Through archaeological fieldwork in the islands of the Caribbean, this project is focusing on the development of larger and more complex societies before the arrival of Europeans in AD 1492 (the pre-Columbian period) and the lessons this can provide to people living in the region today.


Survey, excavation and material analyses at selected case study sites will bring together students from Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom. These fieldwork projects aim to develop the research skills and experience necessary to help build the next generation of archaeologists, heritage managers and museum curators in the region.

The case study sites have been selected to address two core research areas:

Climate change - how can 6,000 years of human experience of climate variability and environmental change be used to inform and improve current community resilience to the impending impacts of modern climate change?

Cultural identity - to what extent can new perspectives of multi-ethnic and multi-cultural communities in the pre-Columbian Caribbean and the intensive interaction networks in the region these are built upon, inform current community perspectives on identity and cultural heritage?

The project is being developed in collaboration with the governments of Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico building on the long standing research of Dr Jago Cooper and Co-Director Dr Alice Samson.

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Project image gallery

Image gallery

See the results of a recent exploratory research visit to Isla de Mona in the Caribbean

Images of rock art 

Project publications and papers


Samson, Alice V. M., and Cooper, Jago E. In Press. “La Historia de Dos Islas En Un Mar Compartido: Investigaciones Pasadas Y Futuras En El Pasaje de La Mona.” Boletin del Museo del Hombre Dominicano.

Samson, Alice V. M., and Jago Cooper. 2015 “History on Mona Island: Long-Term Human and Landscape Dynamics of an ‘uninhabited’ Island.” New West Indian Guide 89: 30–60.

Samson, Alice V. M., Cooper, Jago E., Nieves, Miguel A., Wrapson, Lucy J., Redhouse, David, Vieten, Rolf-Martin, De Jesús Rullan, Osvaldo, et al. 2015 “Indigenous Cave Use, Isla de Mona, Puerto Rico.” Proceedings of the 25th International Congress for Caribbean Archaeology. San Juan de Puerto Rico

Samson, Alice V. M., Cooper, Jago E., Nieves, Miguel A., Rodríguez Ramos, Reniel, Kambesis, Patricia N., and Lace, Michael J. 2013. “Cavescapes in the Pre-Columbian Caribbean.” Antiquity 87, no. 338.


Conference papers

2015 Departamento de Recursos Naturales, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Paisajes culturales extraordinarios de la Reserva Natural Isla de Mona: los resultados de un proyecto colaborativo

2015 47th Annual Conference of the Association of Caribbean Historians, Nassau, The Bahamas
“The Writing on the Wall: Intercultural Interaction on Isla de Mona”

2015 Oxford University History Society, Oxford, UK
Origins of the Caribbean: New discoveries from Mona Island

2015 Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, USA
Small Island Water Security: considering how the past can help secure a safer future.

2014 Centre for Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Viaje a la Isla de Mona, siglo 21

2014 University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, Puerto Rico
Patrimonio Cultural de Isla de Mona

2014 Cambridge University Cavers Club, Cambridge, UK
Where Speleology meets Archaeology in the Caribbean

2014 University of Cambridge Cambridge, UK
Annual Bushnell Memorial Lecture Invited Lecture: Is the Power of Art the Art of Power?

2014 Society for American Archaeology, Austin, USA
Chaired Session: An Applied Archaeology for Future Earth Paper: Islands for Future Earth

2014 Cavescapes of the Americas, London, UK
Reintegrating cavescapes within broader archaeological landscapes Conference Introduction: Reconsidering the Cave in the American Landscape

2014 British Cave Research Association, Birmingham, UK
Annual Cave Science Symposium
Paper: Cave Archaeology in Isla de Mona

2013 American Anthropological Association, Chicago, USA
Session: Community managed continuity and change: cultural codes for sustainability
Paper: The Culture of Dehumanized Landscapes: a critical commentary from Central America

2013 25th Congress of the International Association of Caribbean Archaeology, San Juan, Puerto Rico
New discoveries of pre-Columbian cave use, Isla de Mona, Puerto Rico



2014 Cavescapes of the Americas London, UK Institute of Latin American Studies

Caves have always played a central role in cultures across the Americas. However, as elsewhere, the study of caves has often been marginalised from mainstream archaeology. Notable exceptions to this are the contributions by Mesoamerican and Caribbean scholars who are coming out of the cave and building on the long tradition of cave studies, integrating discussions of rock art, cosmology and ritual into wider cultural contexts. This conference brought together archaeologists and cave specialists from around the world to address these issues and reintegrate cavescapes within broader cultural landscapes.



The research questions and results of this project formed the editorial drive behind the BBC Documentary Lost Kingdoms of Central America: “The People Who Greeted Columbus”.