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Humans, History and Ecology in Galápagos The Hacienda El Progreso

Archaeology in El Progreso

After an exploratory visit in 2012, we were able to undertake five consecutive field seasons of excavation, mapping, and analysis on San Cristóbal Island from 2014 to 2018. Our research was focused on contexts in and around the modern village of El Progreso. In 2014, 2015, and 2016, we lived in the town while excavating selected locales, mapping in the village with a total station, and organizing project-related events. All recovered items were processed in El Progreso and analysed at the Galápagos Science Center (GSC) in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Specialized analyses of organic materials were conducted at Simon Fraser University with park authorization. In 2017 we finished our analyses at the GSC, and in 2018 we conducted aerial and terrestrial LiDAR mapping, principally of the sugar mill area. All excavated materials were returned to the El Progreso parroquial offices where they are currently housed in anticipation of a planned museum installation.

Research in 2014 included field sampling of soil columns for phytolith extraction, town site mapping, and brief inspections of the properties on which the old sugar mill was located. Excavations were undertaken adjacent to La Cárcel, and at Carpintero, the principal historic midden located beneath the town carpentry. During 2015, excavations continued in Carpintero, road cut profiles were cleaned to gauge the midden’s extent, test pits were placed within the town site, and 20 units were opened throughout the central area of the town center, the abattoir, and on the historic hacienda house site. Mapping continued, repeat photography was undertaken from precise locations matching perspectives of historic photographs, analysis of recovered artifacts and organic materials began at the GSC, and shallow excavations below the historic house site next to the sugar mill area revealed the beginnings of a cobble pavement. These excavations were extended during 2016, along with continued analyses in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Analysis continued in 2017 along with further inspection of the sugar processing area after obtaining permission to access two specific properties. This area was mapped with aerial and terrestrial LiDAR in 2018. Various features, landmarks, and archaeological units can be accessed below on the interactive map.

Interior View of Manuel J. Cobos' Hacienda House, in 2018
Manuel J. Cobos' Hacienda House, Hacienda El Progreso in 2012
Manuel J. Cobos' Hacienda House, Hacienda El Progreso in 2014
Exterior Stairway to Manuel J. Cobos' Hacienda House, Hacienda El Progreso in 2014
Cerro San Joaquin seen from Manuel J. Cobos' Hacienda House, in 2014
Hacienda House, View from La Cárcel, in 2014
Interior Plan of the Hacienda House in 1904

Hacienda House

The hacienda house site is a domineering focal point of El Progreso, consisting today of a large stone base foundation supporting ornamented plastered concrete walls on its southern and eastern exposures, the latter having suffered partial collapse early in 2015. The surviving superstructure is clearly from a later construction. A massive, up to17 m long, rough stone foundation leveled the eastern slope of the knoll and may have supported the original house. Constructed of local volcanic rocks cemented with earth and lime, it is almost 2 m high in places and surmounted by a larger built-in staircase on the eastern side of the structure, with two smaller staircases to the north and south. A surviving interior staircase, consisting of seven cement steps, may have been associated with a later structure. Other smaller structures not necessarily associated with the historic hacienda house are found in the immediate area. A shallow 2.5 m² water retention pool, accessed on one side by three interior steps and consisting of a 25 cm thick rock wall bound in mortar and faced in cement, is located to the northwest of the house. Two outlooks, based on large volcanic rock outcrops that were modified at some time by the addition of smaller rock stairs, and reinforced with cement and marine sand and shells, supply eastern and western views immediately to the north of the house structure. An approximately 4 m² rock feature with a possible brick chimney base and 3 m diameter semicircular footing to support a dome on the north side of the outlooks, has been referred to as an oven.

Digital Terrain Model of the Central Mill Area Using LiDAR Returns
Digital Terrain Model of the Central Mill with Cross Section Panels Using LiDAR Returns

Sugar Mill Infrastructure

The mill area directly below the hacienda house is today littered with the surviving vestiges of earlier sugar production. These include water control features, stone and mortar structures enclosing furnaces, the possible base for the large chimney that dominated the ingenio, foundations and hardware from smaller buildings, wall stubs, and two large metal boilers. Machinery powering the cane presses is found today in various locations, including the large spur wheel and pinion decorating a local business, and the wheels and press rollers in the middle of the roundabout at the entrance to El Progreso. An intact three roller mill is currently on display at the entrance to a hotel in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. A large, round metal container used today as a flower planter in a local courtyard is the bronze basket of a sugar centrifuge. Preserved wheels of the small gauge Decauville railway, which was used to transport harvested field cane to the mill and which traversed the dock for loading and unloading ships, are found in various locations. Segments of light rails can be found as reinforcement in later concrete structures.

Central Mill Area: Terrestrial LiDAR Walk-through

Preserved Material Culture

We analysed 7604 artifacts weighing 80 kg recovered from the midden. Many of the dateable items were manufactured from between the 1860s/70s until around the First World War. Given time lag from manufacture, through use, to discard, the material was likely deposited between 1880 and 1914. It includes ammunition from weaponry between 1887 and 1911, and a preponderance of wire nails which flooded the market after 1880-1890. Our analyses suggest two distinct aspects to these imported manufactured goods: technologies to control both landscape and workers on the hacienda, and consumption to project a modern image.

Forty spent cartridges and shells reflect a variety of arms, including Winchester repeating rifles, Colt revolvers, Smith+Wesson and Spanish casings, a 11x50R mm Comblain, a single 7 mm Mauser, a .44 Henry, and two 12-gauge shotgun shells. Control through the hacienda’s account books is also embodied in glass inkwells and a stoneware ink bottle, hacienda-specific monetary tokens, and barbed-wire, invented in 1870. Recovered materials express aspects of consumer behavior at the hacienda, especially the global reach of products with identifying maker marks. Alcohol bottles for ale/liquor were dominant; wine consumption included “RICHARD & MULLER/NEUFCHATEL,” “BARDINET/BORDEAUX,” and “Dr. J G B SIEGERT & HIJOS;" and, wine demijohns and barrel straps were recovered in midden context. Glassware bottles for “Bordeaux Oil” and “barrel mustard” along with fragments of refined white earthenwares from Staffordshire, Bordeaux, Gien on the Loire River, Sarreguemines in Lorraine, Creil in the north of France, and Belgium were preserved. A colorless patent bottle embossed with “SPERM/SEWING MACHINE/OIL” attests to the presence of fine mechanical devices. Porcelain doll parts, probably from Germany, and a domino piece were recovered. A “Cherry Toothpaste/Crown Perfumery” lid from London, French “Superieure,” toothbrushes, “Murray and Lanman’s Florida Water” bottles, French “GLYCEROPHOSPHATE ROBIN/GRANULE” and American “Dr. H.F. Peery’s Dead Shot Vermifuge” bottles, “Bristol’s Pills” from New York, and a Holloway Gout ointment jar from London attest to the importation of global products for personal hygiene.

List of Identified Archaeofaunas, Carpintero Midden


The 23,025 (109,451 g) specimens examined from secure deposits in the Carpintero midden reveal the hacienda’s catholic diet of both domesticated exotic and wild endemic animals. The assemblage is dominated by cattle and sea bass or grouper, much of which was likely processed for export. Domesticated livestock includes small and nondescript Criollo cattle, larger Nubian and Criollo goats, Criollo pigs, horse, and dogs, cats, rabbits and chickens. Sea basses, and possibly Galápagos Grouper or Bacalao (Mycteroperca olfax) were clearly important as were marine Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), along with some iguana, and a variety of common, shallow water, and principally intertidal marine gastropods, bivalves, and sea urchins, especially larger chitons, the prized canchalagua, still harvested by villagers especially at night.

Concentrations of arboreal vs grass phytoliths and DP ratio signals


Charred seeds and seed fragments identified in hacienda contexts include maize (Zea mays), coffee (Coffea arabica), lentils (Lens culinaris), and common guava (Psidium guajava). Recovered phytoliths from historic contexts also reveal the presence of maize, sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum), banana (Musa), and palms. Identified wood charcoals include endemic Matazarno (Piscidia carthagenensis), Guayabillo (Psidium galapageium), Lechoso (Scalesia pedunculata), Chala (Croton scouleri), and Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens), as well as exotic invasives including Guava, Bamboo (Guadua angustifolia), pine (Pinus sp.) and oak (Quercus sp.). The ratios of forest phytoliths to grass phytoliths in paleoecological column samples are graphed in a Tree Cover index (D/P). Arboreal vegetation dominated the landscape prior to human arrival and was partially replaced by grasses, likely during the second half of the 19th century when introduced grasses, especially Penisetum and Bracharia, start becoming part of the local landscape.

Fertile Plateau of Chatham Island Seen Looking East from the Cobos Hacienda 1888 Repeat Photo (3b) 2015
Natives, Chatham Island 1888 Repeat Photo (14) 2015

Historic Landscape Changes

At its height, much of the interior highlands consisted of managed landscape, including cultivated crops supplied with water imported via an extensive kilometers-long irrigation system, and serviced by a network of roads and trails stretching from the interior highlands to the coast. Large expanses of improved and unimproved pasture surrounded El Progreso. Surviving historic photographs taken of Hacienda El Progreso during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century visually depict open pasturage in the distant hills to the east of the historic village. Through repeat photography, the juxtaposition of these historic images with their precisely aligned contemporary counterparts provides dramatic visual reference, both to the extent and degree of vegetation clearance and to the regeneration of the contemporary landscape. Today, highland vegetation has colonized the area within the historic footprint of Hacienda El Progreso to form a legacy landscape dominated by exotic taxa introduced from the historic hacienda’s earliest beginnings, which continues into the present day.

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