Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Research project

Back to the source

Provenance and distribution of raw materials

Duration
2008  -   2013
Contact
Corinne Hofman
Funding
NWO Innovational Research Incentives Scheme NWO Innovational Research Incentives Scheme
Partners

Dr. A. van As (Laboratory of Ceramic Studies, Leiden University)

Prof. dr. M. van Kolfschoten (Centre of Art and Archaeological Sciences (CAAS) (Leiden University/Delft University of Technology)

Dr. G. Harlow (Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences of the American Museum of Natural History, New York)

Dr. M. Martinón-Torres (Wolfson Archaeological Science Laboratories, Institute of Archaeology, University College London)

 

Short Abstract

The diverse geological make-up of the circum-Caribbean has resulted in a discontinuous distribution of the natural resources, such as lithics, clays, pottery temper materials, shell, fibre and wood. Several types of (raw) materials exchange should be expected to be operating within the local and regional contact networks, but the specific mechanisms that underlay the diffusion and movement of particular goods within these diachronically shifting networks remain to be unravelled.

Introduction

The realm of Amerindian material culture is one of great wealth and diversity, from the specific materials sought after, their subsequent elaboration through manufacture to their materialisation into finished products. The diverse geological make-up of the circum-Caribbean has resulted in a discontinuous distribution of the natural resources, such as lithics, clays, pottery temper materials, shell, fiber and wood. This may have stimulated craft specialization on those materials to which communities had easy access and would have necessitated procurement strategies targeting the wider region for less easily attainable materials.

Several types of (raw) materials exchange should be expected to be operating within the local and regional contact networks, but the specific mechanisms that underlay the diffusion and movement of particular goods within these diachronically shifting networks remain to be unraveled. Ceramics, lithics and guanín (gold-copper alloy) are the most viable categories for analysis to tackle such questions, given their ubiquitous (ceramics/lithics) or highly informative nature ( guanín). However, current knowledge on the provenance of raw materials for these artifact categories and the identification of their distribution patterns is still in its infancy in the circum-Caribbean region when compared to other regions worldwide , with some notable exceptions.

Recently, the integrated application of pioneering archaeometric methods and techniques on the provenance and distribution of raw materials and finished artifacts has provided promising results in geographically restricted areas and given rise to new hypotheses that should now be tested from a pan-Caribbean perspective. Such a broad, regional approach is innovative in the Caribbean given that it integrates the analysis of the material categories guanín, lithics and ceramics, thus providing a holistic perspective of the patterns of interaction in the area. By expanding the scale of analysis, these studies will also provide high-resolution data to explore hitherto unconsidered long-distance inter-societal engagements between the inhabitants of the islands and those of the surrounding continental regions.

Research questions

Main research questions are: (1) what were the provenance areas of raw materials and artifacts, what were the mechanisms underlying their distributions across the region, and how did these mechanisms operate, (2) in what states of processing are materials encountered and what does this say about the operational sequence of procurement and manufacture, and (3) how do these issues relate to the parameters and choices issuing from socio-cultural behaviour?

A related subquestion is: what is the geographical range and the direction of movement of ceramic, lithic and metallurgical raw materials and/or finished products in the interaction networks established in the circum-Caribbean region?

Aims

The subproject analyzes the compositional and technological signatures imprinted in pottery, lithic, and guanín artifacts to determine the operational protocols involved in their manufacture and their distribution patterns, next to the mechanisms that regulated their exchange across the circum-Caribbean. It will examine diachronically the provenance and geographical distributions of these artifacts through the technological analysis of their manufacture and function as well as through the geochemical analysis of the raw materials employed in their production. The socio-cultural behavior involved in the procurement and manufacture of the artifacts will be elucidated by drawing on ethnohistorical and ethnographic sources of information.

Approach

The aims will be pursued through studies of provenance, manufacture and distribution of ceramics, lithics and guanín. In all three cases technological and geochemical analyses will be carried out on materials from various areas throughout the region, ensuring geographical and diachronic representativity. Referencing archaeological/ anthropological models of exchange, the studies will contribute towards furthering the understanding of the sourcing of the materials, complementing the available data and reconstructing local and regional interaction spheres.

These lines of investigation will be strengthened by a study of ethnohistorical and ethnographic literature to conceptualize the socio-cultural parameters involved in the procurement of raw materials and manufacture of artifacts. Furthermore, such sources do justice to the large number of perishable goods (i.e. basketry, wood, calebash) which figured prominently within exchange relationships but which are largely missed in the archaeological record. This study should broaden our understanding of the socio-cultural parameters and choices that may have influenced the establishment of the regional interaction patterns in this area as well as the changes that can be observed in such social relationships through time.

Coordination

The subproject is coordinated by prof. dr. Corinne Hofman and staffed by Postdocs A.J.D. Isendoorn and Dr. R. Rodríguez Ramos as well as an external PhD, supervised by prof. dr. Corinne Hofman, and an analyst, who will perform the geochemical analyses.

Postdoc 1

The Postdoc will examine the provenance of raw materials for the production of pottery and the manufacture and distribution of finished products. Ongoing research for the VIDI-programme has yielded evidence for the movement of clays, temper materials and finished pottery items throughout the Antilles and neighbouring continental areas. These studies will be expanded upon and extended to the circum-Caribbean, to gain a better understanding of procurement of ceramic raw materials as well as the production sequence and distribution of ceramic artifacts, in turn determining the condition of the materials when they reached the sites (e.g. as clay or finished objects). Petrographic studies will be carried out on clay and pottery samples to identify their mineral composition and origins. The clay samples will also be tested for their workability properties for pottery manufacture. Geochemical analyses (XRF, TIMS and MC-ICPMS) will determine the chemical composition of raw materials and pre-colonial pottery, providing detailed information on the provenance of these materials. The analysis will be performed through the established cooperations with Dr. A. van As (Laboratory of Ceramic Studies, Leiden University), Prof dr. G.R. Davies (Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Free University, Amsterdam), and the Centre of Art and Archaeological Sciences (CAAS) (Leiden University/Delft University of Technology, coordinator Prof. dr. M. van Kolfschoten). The sourcing data will address such questions as: (1) what is the geographical extent and the direction of movement of raw materials and/or finished products in the interaction networks established in the circum-Caribbean, and (2) how did the nature and material corpus of such networks change through time?

Postdoc 2

The Postdoc will focus on the provenance of lithic raw materials and the manufacture and distribution of lithic artifacts. Like ceramics, lithic materials were often moved around. Recent studies have provided evidence for micro-regional interaction spheres in which artifacts of greenstone, flint, chert and amber circulated throughout several islands of the Lesser and Greater Antilles. Mobility of materials over greater distances is underscored by the occurrence of Guatemalan jade axes and Central American obsidian in the Antilles. In adopting a pan-Caribbean, long-term perspective the patterns of reproduction and changes in the configuration of the spheres of raw material circulation throughout the Antilles and surrounding continental regions will be revealed. Sourcing studies will be combined with technological analyses of lithic materials to determine: (1) what was the stage of reduction in which the circulated materials reached the sites (i.e., as objective pieces, preforms, or finished items, and (2) which were the operational protocols that were employed in the transformation of such objective pieces into tools? The characterization of raw materials used for core-flake reduction will include thin-section analysis and ICAES. These studies will be conducted at the Geology Department, University of Utrecht. In the case of formal artifacts such as celts, pendants and threepointers, non-destructive methods (e.g. X-ray microdiffraction and Raman spectroscopy) will be performed in cooperation with Dr. G. Harlow (Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences of the American Museum of Natural History, New York). The sourcing data will address questions such as: (1) what is the geographical extent and the directionality of the movement of raw materials and/or finished products within the interaction networks established throughout the circum-Caribbean, and (2) how did the nature and material corpus of such networks change through time?

PhD external

The external PhD will focus on the provenance and distribution of guanín. It is believed that the guanín objects found in certain Greater Antillean contexts were imported from the Central and/or South American mainlands. These artifacts are extremely scarce in Antillean archaeological contexts and thusfar there are only a few studies of the provenance. It is essential to expand upon this research avenue by incorporating through established contacts guanín artifacts from Central American and Cuban collections. The study of these pieces will be conducted through the application of ED-XRF, Optical Microscopy and SEM-EDS, in cooperation with Dr. M. Martinón-Torres (Wolfson Archaeological Science Laboratories, Institute of Archaeology, University College London). The application of these studies will allow the addressing of the following questions: (1) which material combinations and what metallurgical techniques were employed for producing the guanín artifacts found in Antillean contexts, (2) what is the provenance of these items, and (3) how can the particularities of the manufacture of these items and their typology be associated with Central and South American cultural traditions and how were their expressions incorporated in the Antillean cultures?

Connection with other research