6 Mar 2024 16:00 - 17:00 Online & McDonald Institute, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3ER


An event by the Multi-Dimensional Dialogues of the Americas research network.

The River Flow Memory Book Project: integrating local and academic knowledge to study human/rivers entanglement in central Nicaragua


  • Irene Torregianni (DPhil Student, Archaeology, University of Oxford, National Geographic Explorer)
  • Alvaro Laiz (Independent Photographer, National Geographic Explorer)
  • Alexander Geurds (Associate Professor in Middle and South American Archaeology, University of Oxford, National Geographic Senior Explorer)
  • Andrea Morales Araya (MA Archaeologist, Universidad de Costa Rica)
  • Lina Cabrera Sáenz (PhD Student, Biological Sciences, NPRG, Florida Institute of Technology)
  • Meyling Ramírez Alegría (BSc Biologist, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua)


Water is a key element in the interplay between humans and their relations with each other and their surroundings. While archaeological research can shed light on human/river entanglement through time, to deeply understand this complex relationship, it is necessary to integrate the local communities in the research process.

Since January 2018, the Interdisciplinary Archaeological Project Santa Matilde (PRISMA) is studying prehispanic adaptation strategies to fluvial environments in the Mayales River valley (Chontales, central Nicaragua).

As an off-set of PRISMA, in March 2020, the River Flow Memory Book Project was carried out in conjunction with the photographer Alvaro Laiz, supported by the National Geographic Society and a PERSeedsFund (Oxford University). Photography and storytelling techniques were applied in recollecting local memories related to water and fluvial environments in the rural communities of the Mayales River valley. Through personal interviews and participatory observation, the community members were asked to describe their daily and extraordinary relation with rivers and water. Finally, the archaeological and paleoenvironmental data produced by PRISMA were interpreted with the local communities in a Public Engagement event. This talk will present some of the challenges and outcomes of this research approach, showing portraits, words, beliefs, and ideas of the amazing people we had the opportunity to share time and knowledge. The study also shows that water procurement is nowadays mostly carried by women in Chontales rural communities, which makes them deeply knowledgeable about the most essential resource of all: water.

About the speaker

Irene Torreggiani is a National Geographic Explorer and an environmental archaeologist specialising in prehispanic archaeology from Nicaragua and Costa Rica. She is currently completing her DPhil at the University of Oxford, investigating prehispanic human adaptation to hydroclimatic changes in central Nicaragua, directing the research project, PRISMA (Interdisciplinary Archaeological Project Santa Matilde). Since 2020, Torreggiani has collaborated with fellow National Geographic Explorer and photographer Alvaro Laiz on the ‘The River Flow Memory Book’ project, which uses storytelling to record the local knowledge on watery environments and interpret PRISMA’s archaeological results. She is also working with the Nicaraguan biologist Lina Cabreara and Dr William J Harvey on the creation of Nicaragua’s first Pollen Atlas and generating a 1,200-year paleoclimatic record from El Tigre Lake, Leo.

Lent term theme:

The second proposed theme of our series tackles endangered traditional knowledge across the Americas. We reflect on how fewer indigenous languages and crafts are now being spoken and fabricated in the context of dominant manufacturing industries and languages, which are perceived to be socially and economically more valuable than minority languages and traditional ways of living. In this theme, we also discuss and offer recent cases of studies where digital media tools provide a new pathway for transmitting and conserving oral cultures and protecting everyday objects, traditional technological systems and other material cultures that are threatened by extinction. 

For enquiries please contact the Research Networks Programme Manager.

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