Universiteit Leiden

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Research programme

Caribbean Connections: Cultural Encounters in a New World Setting (CARIB)

What socio-cultural transformations did indigenous communities in the Lesser Antilles undergo from the late precolonial to the early colonial period in response to Amerindian­ European-African cultural encounters? How did Amerindian populations realign themselves in response to the colonisation process?* What is the research question? How can the study of indigenous Caribbean histories contribute to a more sophisticated heritage awareness that will speak to multiple stakeholders at local and global scales?

2013  -   2016
Corinne Hofman
HERA Joint Research Programme HERA Joint Research Programme
  • Prof. Dr. Patrick Degryse (Earth and environmental sciences, Centre for archaeological sciences, KU Leuven)
  • Prof. Dr. Ulrick Brandes (Department of computer and information science, University of Konstanz)

Short Abstract

The cultural encounters between the Old and New Worlds are among the most infamous in human history. The Caribbean was the centre stage for interactions between cultures of dramatically different backgrounds, which after a turbulent colonial period eventually laid the foundations for the modern-day, multi-ethnic societies of the region. The universities of Leiden, Leuven, and Konstanz will combine archaeology, history, archaeometry, and network science to study the trans- formations of Amerindian culture and society as a result of these encounters. Through collaborations with local experts, the involvement of local communities, and the organisation of workshops and museum exhibitions, this project contributes to capacity building and historical awareness. In a geopolitically diverse islandscape, with an archaeological record that is under threat from natural disasters and the growing tourism industry, this project stimulates the valorisation of Caribbean cultural heritage. The team fromthe Netherlands, Belgium, and Germanywill investigate transformations in Caribbean culturesand societiesacross the historicaldividethroughthree complementary projects: (1)Transformations of indigenous settlement patternsand organisation, (2) Continuity and change in materialculture repertoires, and (3) Network transformations across the historicaldivide.


  • How did Amerindian  settlement pattern  and organisation transform across the historical  divide?
  • What changes are visible in indigenous material culture  repertoires from  the late pre-colonial to the early colonial  period?
  • What transformations occurred  in Lesser Antillean  social networks  across the historical  divide?

Project description

The Central Research Project focuses on inter-community social relationships and transformations of island cultures, and societies in the Lesser Antilles across the historical divide  (AD 1000-1800). This period represents  an archaeologically understudied and turbulent era during  which the inhabitants of the Lesser Antilles came under increasing  influence  from South America and the Greater  Antilles, and participated in the last phase of indigenous resistance to colonial  powers. The region is ideal for this research  because of 1) its geographic  location as a chain of small islands between the landmasses  of the South American mainland  and the Greater  Antilles, thus serving  as a conduit for interaction and exchange;  2) its continuous Amerindian  occupation  from 6000 BC until  the 18th century; 3) its dynamic  situation of Amerindian-European-African interactions: a lasting  legacy of the colonial encounters. The primary  aim is to understand the impacts of cultural  encounters on Lesser Antillean indigenous  Carib societies by studying transformations in settlement pattern and organisation, material  culture, and network  strategies  across the historical divide. The trans-national, multi-disciplinary team, combining  archaeology, history, archaeometry, and social network  studies is uniquely positioned  to provide  new insights  into these transformations throughout the process of colonisation.  The multi-disciplinary  approach will advance novel perspectives to the study of intercultural dynamics in colonial encounter  situations worldwide and will contribute to discussions  of indigenous resistance', cultural  transformations, and cultural  diversity  in an ever globalizing  world.

The cultural  encounters  between  the Old and New Worlds are among  the most infamous in human history.  The Caribbean  was the centre stage of the first  encounters, the repercussions  of which are woven  into the fabric of modern  multi-ethnic  Caribbean society. Yet, our understanding of this important chapter  in history  is sorely inadequate, because, despite the significant role of the Amerindians  in this process, there are large gaps in our understanding of indigenous responses to European colonisation. The Lesser Antilles represent  one of the major  regions in the Caribbean in which the lasting  effects of these encounters can be studied.  Uniquely, the Lesser Antilles  were party  to interactions between cultures  with  dramatically different  ideological, social, technological, and economic  frameworks, spanning  the entire  historical divide. This period (AD 1000-1800) encompasses  an era of expanding  indigenous pre-colonial networks  through  to the final phase of Amerindian  resistance  against  colonial powers. Europeans first  heard of the Lesser Antilles through  Columbus' interactions with the indigenous  people of the Greater  Antilles, who mentioned  their  fear of allegedly cannibalistic  people living  there. The Europeans already  held misconceptions about unfamiliar island peoples based on preconceived,  late medieval ideas about a 'phantastic insular  world'. Their prejudices were reinforced  by fierce resistance  from  the Carib  or Kalinago against European occupation  of the region. Currently, our views on these encounters  are dominated  by the descriptions of the early chroniclers. In spite of significant scholarly  advances by Caribbean  researchers  in deconstructing documentary bias and European and colonial preconceptions" the Amerindian  past of the Lesser Antilles  remains  marginalised in the discourse on the archaeology  and history  of colonial encounters  in general.


1.  The first  objective  is to understand impacts of cultural  encounters  on Lesser Antillean  Amerindian  societies across the historical  divide  through  the integration of archaeological, historical, archaeometrical, and social network  data.

2.  The second objective is to increase historical  awareness  and protection of heritage resources  through public exposure, workshops and museum  exhibitions. This will be reinforced  by the involvement of Caribbean  experts,  scholars and local communities in the proposed research agenda

A team from  the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany  will investigate transformations in Caribbean cultures  and societies  across the historical  divide  through  three complementary projects: (1)   Transformations of indigenous settlement patterns  and organisation, (2) Continuity and change in material  culture repertoires, and (3) Network transformations across the historical  divide.  The synthesis, which will be written in the last year of the Central Research Project, will result  in an edited volume.  At the end of year 3 a symposium  will be held in Leiden with all the PMs, contributions to which will form  part of the volume.  It is expected  that  this publication will culminate  in a rich narrative of transforming Amerindian culture  and society in the face of the colonial encounters, hereby contributing to the theme  of cultural  encounters on a global scale and bridging the gap between 'prehistory' and history.

Prof. Dr. Patrick Degryse (KU Leuven) Prof. Dr. Corinne Hofman (Leiden University) and Prof. Dr. Ulrik Brandes (Konstanz University)

Connection with other research

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