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Zooarchaeological Data from the Historic Hacienda El Progreso San Cristóbal Island, Galápagos, Ecuador

Database of 25,492 archaeofaunal specimens recovered from 13 excavation units in four locales throughout the town of El Progreso, San Cristóbal Island, Galápagos Province

Project Abstract

Banner image credit: Historic Repeat Photography of the Hacienda El Progreso Worker's Quarters in 1888 and the Modern Landscape in 2015. (Historic Photo: 1888 “Fertile Plateau of Chatham Island Seen Looking East from the Cobos Hacienda” National Archives and Records Administration (Albatross Expedition), NARA-22-FA-89. Repeat Photo July 2015, View ENE, GPS: S00°54.378´ W089°33.436´ Elevation: 342m).


A collection of 25,492 (118,820 g) archaeofaunal specimens was recovered from 13 excavation units in four separate locales throughout the town of El Progreso, San Cristóbal Island, Galápagos Province, Ecuador. The archaeofaunas form an integral part of the artifacts collected by the Historical Ecology of the Galápagos Islands project (2012-2018) which was focused on the historic Hacienda El Progreso, an export-based sugar plantation and ranching enterprise planned and conceived by Manuel J. Cobos in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Animal bone specimens were recovered from: 1. A buried sheet midden directly below the historic Cobos house site (Carpintero Units 1-3); 2. 1X1m test pits in the house site area (Cobos Units 5- 9); and in the area of the worker’s quarters, 3. 2X2m test pits adjacent to the ruins of what may once have been the village store (Carcel Units 1-2); and 4. 1X1 units to the north in the contemporary town site (Camal Units 10-12). Animal bones are ubiquitous in and around the area of the modern town site, and the contextual integrity of the shallow excavation units are questionable; therefore, our analyses are focused on the sealed deposits of the Carpintero midden located directly below the Cobos house site near the town entrance. These deposits appear as a lense of compact midden material almost one meter below surface, where artifactual associations date the deposits directly to the focal years of the hacienda’s early operations between 1879 and 1904. We suggest that this midden represents accumulated waste material from the house, and extractive efforts of the hacienda, through its location directly down slope from the Cobos house and in close proximity to the communal kitchen and eating area of the hacienda. The Carpintero collection includes 23,025 specimens (109,451 g), and comprises the major source for our zooarchaeological interpretation of the Hacienda El Progreso assemblage.

Project Description

The Historical Ecology of the Galápagos Islands (HEGI) project was initiated in 2012 to develop an international and multidisciplinary examination into the history, nature, and extent of ecological change and landscape alteration coinciding with the temporal increase in human contact throughout the archipelago. The transformation of island landscapes into novel habitats with substitution ecologies raises important issues about public and scientific perceptions of nature and the escalating role of tourism in biological conservation, preservation, and restoration in a protected bioreserve. HEGI activities are undertaken within a framework of Historical Ecology, and incorporate three interconnected perspectives: 1. globalization and the increasing integration of the islands into an expanding network of human interests from different continents and hemispheres since their discovery by Europeans shortly after the Columbian invasion; 2. anthropogenic transformation of distinctive island habitats into novel ecosystems supporting substitution ecologies, whose legacies survive into the present; and, 3. changing popular and scientific perceptions of nature and tourism’s role in biological conservation, preservation, and restoration within the context of an internationally iconic nature park.

Methodological Notes

Archaeofaunal specimens were recovered from excavation units during 2014 and 2015. Screening of materials was difficult due to extremely wet conditions during the 2014 season; therefore most of the specimens were recovered by hand during the excavation of the compact midden lense with trowels. Specimens were cleaned with light brushing in water, dried, and rebagged in El Progreso, prior to their identification and analysis in the terrestrial ecology laboratory of the Galápagos Science Center, where they were temporarily stored. Preserved specimens were recovered from almost every excavation unit, and by number, weight, and volume comprise the largest single artifact category collected by the project. A total of 25,492 specimens (118,820 g) are tabulated in database files (Paradox), according to: Unit, Level, Quantity, Weight, Identification, Size (S,M,L), Element, Portion, Side, Differential Preservation in quartiles of Scan Sites where applicable, Dentition Present, Fusion/Eruption, Heat Modification, Surface Modification, Breakage, and Comments. Various standardized measurements of weight-bearing bones of large mammals, and maxillae of fish were also recorded. The data are accessible in four separate files for each site, and one combined file for the entire project.

Potential Applications of the Data

A comparable archaeological context might be found in future excavations focused on Santo Tomás, another export-oriented operation on Isabela Island. Comparisons with other historic, island-based contexts might also be feasible, as would additional (to our own) aDNA study of the archaeofaunal materials.


It was possible to undertake the HEGI project with funding from the Galápagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS), the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC). A generous SSHRCC Partnership Development Grant (890-2013-0013) enabled us to partner the University of Victoria (UVIC) with USFQ, Simon Fraser University (SFU), GAIAS, the Galápagos Science Center (GSC), and the Junta Parroquial, Gobierno Autónomo Descentralizado Parroquial El Progreso. Through authorization from the Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural (INPC) and permission by the Parque Nacional Galápagos (PNG) we undertook a total of six seasons of investigation and analysis between 2012 and 2018.

Related Publications

Stahl, Peter W. Stahl, Fernando J. Astudillo, Ross W. Jamieson, Diego Quiroga, and Florencio Delgado 2020 Historical Ecology and Archaeology in the Galápagos Islands: A Legacy of Human Occupation. University of Florida, Gainesville.

Digital repository and exhibit:

Table Field Descriptions


  • Carpintero: Units 1, 2, 3
  • Cobos: Units 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
  • Cárcel: Units 1, 2
  • Camal: Units 10, 11, 12


Arbitrary 10 cm levels, note: Carpintero was excavated in 10 cm levels following exposed stratigraphy in profile


Numerical frequency


≥1.0g in 1.0g increments


Zoological identification, usually to genus and above, unless very specific morphology enabled identification of species (especially invertebrates) following references included in the summary documentation


Arbitrary designation of SML, Small, Medium, Large


Skeletal element


Anatomical orientation


RL, Right, Left where appropriate


Scan Sites used to estimate density-mediated attrition following published figures. Where applicable, each estimated preservation in quartiles (1.0, .75, .5, .25). This data base includes measurements for Capra (not used), and Bos/Mammalia L/Artiodactyla L (used to estimate preservation of cattle following Kreutzer 1992 –see summary documentation)

I, C, P, M:

Incisor, Canine, Premolar, Molar –number of each when erupted in Dentary or Maxilla


fusion/eruption –U=unfused, and occasionally U for deciduous teeth, E for erupting teeth in Dentary or Maxilla generally for immature specimens


(2 Fields, separated if burning stages are different)

Numeral 1Numeral 2
1 Yellow-brown to Pink-brown (220-350 C) 1 Burned over entire piece
2 Dark brown to black (350-400 C) 2 Burned Proximal
3 Dark blue-gray to light grey (400-500 C) 3 Burned Middle
4 Pink-grey to white (Calcined) (500 C) 4 Burned Distal
5 Burned Prox. and Md.
6 Burned Dist. and Md.
7 Burned Prox. and Dist.
8 Burned Interior Only
9 Burned Exterior Only
0 Burned in part


  • a rticulated
  • b abraded
  • c hew/puncture
  • d igested
  • g rodent gnaw
  • i ntrusive
  • p olished
  • r oot staining
  • w eather (+ numeric stage)
  • x cut/saw (+ description of separate sheet)
  • y calcium carbonate/caliche


(2 fields to record Mixed Breakage Patterns, e.g. HE1; LO3 etc.)

Numeral 1 Numeral 2
HE Helical 1 Proximal
TR Transverse 2 Distal
OS Oblique, straight path3 Dorsal
OP Oblique, stepped path4 Ventral
ST Stepped path 5 Medial
LO Longitudinal 6 Lateral
LB Longitudinal and Oblique
TL Transverse and Longitudinal
SA Sagittal
V V-shaped
U Unknown


General comments: descriptions of cut mark or modification, details of burning, whether recovered in flotation fraction, description of tooth eruption, tooth wear stages following published sources, articulation, and osteometrics where applicable

Current Disposition of the Collection

All excavated materials were returned to the El Progreso parroquial offices where they are currently housed in anticipation of a planned museum installation.

Suggested Citation

Peter W Stahl. (2020) "Zooarchaeological Data from the Historic Hacienda El Progreso San Cristóbal Island, Galápagos, Ecuador". Released: 2020-04-06. Open Context. <> DOI:

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