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Mapping Ancient Puerto Rico Culture Before It’s Too Late

Archaeologists and anthropologists have been working to learn about indigenous people of Puerto Rico for decades. Recent discoveries have confirmed that DNA markers from ancient inhabitants can still be found in the modern population of the Island, and an unidentified writing system may be  evidence of a previously unknown culture.

There is clearly much more to learn about prehistoric Puerto Rico. But rising sea levels threaten archaeological study sites along Puerto Rico’s coastline. According to NOAA, sea levels have risen by .6 inch each decade since the 1960s. The sea could be 8 feet higher by the end of this century.

Preserving information

Researchers are using drones to identify the most vulnerable sites. Scientists from the Cultural Heritage Engineering Initiative at the University of California, San Diego; UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Center for Marine Archaeology; and Para la Naturaleza, a Puerto Rico-based environmental nonprofit are gathering 3D images of Puerto Rico’s coastline. The advanced technology is turning up information that helps the researchers to prioritize sites that are most likely to be lost to erosion.

Researchers can then focus on the sites that are most threatened, and thus lose the least possible amount of information. Student researchers were able to document much of the Island’s coastline before the arrival of Hurricane Maria when the project first began in 2017.

Special cameras called CAVEcams were able to gather data which is expected to serve as a benchmark for the future.

The Center for Marine Archaeology is also conducting an extensive project identifying patterns of human-water interaction over the past 6,000 years, with a view to informing future policy decisions.

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