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Research project

Early Colonial Mosaics, Transculturation within Ceramic Repertoires in the Spanish Colonial Caribbean 1495-1562

What can continuity and change in the manufacturing of locally made ceramics from the early colonials Spanish towns of Concepción de la Vega, Cotuí and Nueva Cádiz (1492-1600) tell us about the choices people made in ceramic production as a reaction the the changing social environment?

2016 - 2022
Marlieke Ernst


The interactions between colonizers, colonized, and enslaved peoples in the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean resulted in a multicultural society in which indigenous peoples, Europeans and Africans forcefully lived together. In studying technological and stylistic continuities and changes in ceramics made in the early Spanish colonies, this study will reveal the choices potters made within the creation of a new material culture repertoire, as a way of dealing with the changing socio-political environment around them, as well as transmission and transculturation of knowledge in ceramic manufacture. 

Social relevance

The colonial interactions during the colonial period have had a profound impact on the formation of the present day societies of the Dominican Republic and Cubagua. However, the research toward these colonial interactions have not reached its full potential. This study adds to the understanding of Indigenous-European-African interactions and will show that in colonial times the newly formed society was more open to accept new forms of material culture and techniques then previously thought. This research will be able to add to the knowledge about indigenous survival of technologies after the colonization, as well as give voice to the African descendants about the way their ancestors coped with the colonial disruption. This research can contribute to a revision of traditional views about the colonization. 

Scientific relevance

This research applies innovative ways in comparing pre-1492 and post-1492 ceramic technologies. It adds to the understanding of ways people transmitted knowledge in the past and combines this with theories of colonialism. 

Why Leiden University?

Leiden University was chosen for its excellent research group for Caribbean Archaeology as well as the extensive knowledge towards ceramic studies present in the material culture Labs. 

This research applies macro-trace analysis towards the ceramic chaînes opératoires from Hispaniola and Cubagua. Results of the ceramic analysis are then combined with theories of colonialism, knowledge transmission and transculturation. 

Preliminary results have shown processes of transculturation in the chaînes opératoires of the ceramic repertoires in these colonies, whereby multiple traditions came together in the creation of a new material set. Continuities and changes in the production of ceramics in the colonies provide insight into the formal processes of colonization and the inter-cultural dynamics that occurred. Although laborers, captives, and enslaved peoples often lived marginal lives in the colonies, their role in the transculturation process is evident in the ceramic assemblages. Caribbean, African, and European influences are reflected in the locally made ceramics.

The findings of this research will be published in a monograph as well as in several peer-reviewed papers. This project will give way to new research questions about the interactions between communities and offers discussion about how we see the colonial past. 

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