-Robert Merrill, Field Notes, pg. 1, February 3, 1940
Today marks Robert Merrill’s first day on the job at Sitio Conte. His meticulous field notebook contains–in exquisite detail–his notes, drawings, and photographs of the excavations. It is an invaluable tool for learning about the Cocle people and the burials at Sitio Conte.
A retired civil engineer, Merrill worked with Mason in Mexico in 1936, and was back as the surveyor, draftsperson, and photographer for this expedition.
Merrill developed a system to record the fieldwork by using a graduated string grid (see Fig. 3) to accurately plot, number, and catalogue all the uncovered objects. This innovative approach allowed, as Mason later put it, “that we [can] replace almost every specimen in its original position, depth and associations.” Merrill’s square grid enabled him to photograph groups of artifacts in situ from above and to precisely plot them on graph paper. The whole contraption can be seen in Fig. 4.
Today, thanks to Merrill’s documentation, the exhibition staff and curators of Beneath the Surface: Life, Death, and Gold in Ancient Panama were able to recreate the famous Burial 11 with many of the objects mounted and oriented as they were found by Mason and his team.