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Research project

Late Pre-colonial and Early Colonial Entanglements of Venezuela with the Caribbean

This research project is an integral part of its mother-programme NEXUS1492 ERC Synergy Project directed by Prof. Corinne Hofman. Overarchingly, it aims at understanding and bridging from the archaeological perspective the late pre-colonial and early colonial history of the Southeastern Caribbean macroregion across the transcendental ‘threshold’ of 1492.

Contact
Andrzej Antczak

Objectives

This project is envisioned to achieve two specific goals:

  1. to elucidate the political, economic, socio-cultural and ideological nature and dynamics of the Indigenous/European interactions in the north-eastern coast of South America (today Venezuela and ABC islands [Dutch Caribbean]), and
  2. to investigate how these processes might have been entangled with the Indigenous/European interactions that occurred on the Southern Caribbean coasts and islands within the same timeframe.

Some of the general research questions to be answered are:

  • In which specific case studies within the region under study the use of the direct historical approach may be archaeologically validated?
  • What were the roles of the indigenous peoples in forging the early colonial sociocultural, political-economical, and ideological realities through their interactions with the European newcomers?
  • What were the nature, dynamics and intensities of specific colonial processes that allowed or constrained the continuity of certain pre-colonial structures, traits or phenomena into the early colonial times?
  • Why some of these processes were similar while other were dissimilar when comparing the north-central and north-eastern Venezuela and other areas of the insular Caribbean?

Methodology

To achieve the above objectives we draw from currently available historical, ethnohistorical, and archaeological sources, and combine them with new data provided by archaeological surveys, collection studies, archival research, and archaeometric analyses. Overly, emphasis has been placed on the operationalization of novel theoretical approaches, methodologies and techniques, and on interdisciplinary and collaborative research which includes  an active involvement of local communities in the ongoing research.

Derived from this research, we also wish to formulate interdisciplinarily supported  explanatory models which would allow to confirm, complement or challenge and, eventually, to transform, the currently available narratives and generalizations about sociocultural, politi­cal-economic and ideological changes that occurred in the Caribbean after 1492. Thus far, these narratives are largely based on historical documents alone and on a rather intuitive application of direct historical approach.

Three research focus areas

The first research focuses on the north-central Venezuela region, the second focus is on the north-eastern Venezuelan coast, while the third unites the results derived from the previous two and integrates them into a broader pan-Caribbean panorama. Further, we also identify the expected outcomes of the proposed research and specify institutions and individuals that has been approached for scientific collaboration and/or participation in Venezuela and elsewhere. We also present our vision on how this project can provide the means to translate scientific action and results to the wider public domain.

The entire project draws profusely on previous results of the Archaeology of the Islands of Venezuela research project co-created by Dr. Andrzej Antczak and Dr. Marlena Antczak in the 1980s, and large archaeological collections yielded by this project that are deposited and curated at the Research Archaeology Unit in Simón Bolívar University in Caracas, Venezuela.

Cordillera de la Costa mountain range of north-central Venezuela (with heights up to 2800 masl) looking north towards the insular Caribbean. Photo: M.A. Antczak.

The North-Central Venezuela Study Region

This region has been portrayed as cultural cross-roads of sorts, a ‘meeting ground’ of influences or population movements from and to the Andean west, the Caribbean north, and the Tropical Lowland south. The central geographic locus of this region is Lake Valencia Basin. This region is essential for any understanding of the purported developmental histories and multivariate sets of human interactions articulated between the Caribbean coast of South America, the Orinoquia and the insular Caribbean, in both precolonial and colonial times. We will not dwell here on the detailed culture history of this vast region but rather turn to discuss the period of the first research focus.

Research Questions and Methodology

The crucial research question posed by this subproject relates to the archaeologically evidenced ‘survival’ of the bearers of the Valencioid culture beyond the threshold of 1492. The following are among the specific research questions:

  • Were the historic groups recorded by the Spanish in the early 16th century the direct descendants of the proto-historic Valencioid indigenous peoples?
  • What was the role of the indigenous populations in the conformation of the colonial realities in north-central Venezuela knowing their late precolonial ‘cultural baggage’?
  • How these early colonial social realities articulated with the indigenous and early colonial populations that inhabited adjacent regions to the east and west from north-central Venezuela?

Collections Research

Diverse public and private collections will be researched seeking for relevant archaeological materials from the study area and from both the late pre-colonial and early colonial times.

  • Unidad de Estudios Arqueológicos, Universidad Simón Bolívar, Caracas (documentation of the archaeological materials [both pre-colonial and colonial] systematically excavated in the Venezuelan Caribbean as well as the research on the related donated collections).
  • Museo Arqueológico de Maracay (searching for and documenting the late pre-colonial and early colonial materials).
  • Private collections in Maracay, Valencia and Caracas, as well as the private collections held abroad (searching for and documenting the late pre-colonial and early colonial materials).
  • The Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University (analyzing materials excavated by C. Osgood in north-central Venezuela in the 1930s).

Publications

Several publications are direct result of this research (since 2015):

  1. 1.Antczak, Andrzej T., Ma. Magdalena Antczak, and Arturo Jaimes 2018. Debating lithics from pre-colonial sites in Los Roques Archipelago, Venezuela (AD 1000–1500). In Multas per Gentes et Multas per Saecula, edited by M. Nowak, P. Valde-Nowak, K. Sobczyk, and J. Źrałka, pp. 669–688. Kraków; Jagiellonian University.
  2. Falci, Catarina Guzzo, Ma. Magdalena Antczak,  Andrzej T. Antczak, and Annelou van Gijn 2018. Recontextualizing Bodily Ornaments from North-Central Venezuela (AD 9001500): the Alfredo Jahn collection at the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin.
  3. Antczak, Andrzej T., Bernardo Urbani, and Ma. Magdalena Antczak 2017. Re-thinking the migration of Cariban-speakers from the Middle Orinoco River to north-central Venezuela (AD 800). Journal of World Prehistory 30(2): 131–175.
  4. Antczak, Ma. Magdalena and Andrzej T. Antczak 2015. Late Pre-Colonial and Early Colonial Archaeology of the Las Aves Archipelagos, Venezuela. Contributions in New World Archaeology 8: 7–4.
  5. Antczak, Andrzej T., Antczak, Konrad A., and Ma. Magdalena Antczak 2015. Risky business: historical archaeology of the Dutch salt enterprise on La Tortuga Island, Venezuela (1624–38). Post-Medieval Archaeology 49(2): 189–219.
  6. Falci, Catarina Guzo,  Ma. Magdalena Antczak and Andrzej T. Antczak 2017. Recontextualizing Bodily Ornaments from North-Central Venezuela (AD 900-1500): the Alfredo Jahn Collection at the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin. Baessler-Archiv 64: 87–112.
  7. Antczak, Andrzej T., Ma. Magdalena Antczak, and Catarina Guzzo Falci (forthcoming). Vibrant Pasts in Museum Drawers: Advances in the study of late precolonial (AD 800–1500) materials collected from north-central Venezuela. In Collecting Latin America, edited by Mariana de Campos Françozo and Maria P. Ordoñez Alvarez, special issue of the Museum History Journal.
  8. Laffoon, Jason E., Sonnemann, Till, F., Antczak, Ma. Magdalena, and Andrzej T. Antczak 2018.  Sourcing nonnative mammal remains from Dos Mosquises Island, Venezuela: new multiple isotope evidence. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 10(6): 1265–1281 https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-016-0453-6
  9. Antczak, Andrzej T., Ma. Magdalena Antczak, Roberto Valcárcel Rojas, and Andrej Sýkora 2015. Rethinking guanín: The role of northern Venezuela in circulation and valuation of indigenous metal objects in the Circum-Caribbean macroregion. Paper presented at the 26th IACA Congress, 19th–25th July, Sint Maarten.
  10. Antczak, Ma. Magdalena, Andrzej T. Antczak, and Miguel Lentino 2015. Avian Remains from the Late Pre-colonial Amerindian Sites on the Islands of the Venezuelan Caribbean. Paper presented at the 81st Annual Meeting Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, US.
  11. Antczak, Ma. Magdalena, Andrzej T. Antczak, and Miguel Lentino 2017. Avian Remains from Late Pre-colonial Amerindian sites on Islands of the Venezuelan Caribbean. Environmental Archaeology, DOI: 10.1080/14614103.2017.1402980
  12. Antczak, Andrzej T., Horacio Biord Castillo, Pedro Rivas, and Ma. Magdalena Antczak (forthcoming). Ethnic History of the Indigenous Peoples of the Sixteenth Century Province of Caracas, Venezuela. Colonial Latin American Review.

Partners in Venezuela and elsewhere

The research will involve the collaboration of the following entities:

  • Unidad de Estudios Arqueológicos de la Universidad Simón Bolívar – is the central place for the analyses of the majority of relevant archaeological materials.
  • Instituto Venezolano de Investiga­ciones Científicas – colleagues from this institution has been approached for the co-authorship of specific publications (see publication co-authored with B. Urbani).
  • Museo de Arqueología de Maracay (Fundación Lisandro Alvarado) – has been approached to secure its collaboration in the analyses of pertinent archaeological materials that are currently held in this museum deposits.
  • Peabody Museum of Yale University, New Haven: ceramic collection was examined, excavated by Cornelius Osgood, J. M. Cruxent & Irving Rouse in Venezuela in 1930s-1950s.
Nueva Cádiz de Cubagua; formerly an ephemeral Spanish-Indigenous campsite of pearl fishers and barterers which became a city in 1528 - one of the earliest European towns in South America; Cubagua Island, Venezuela. Photo: M.A. Antczak.

The North-Eastern Venezuela Study Region

This research focuses on late pre-colonial and early colonial human interactions on the north-eastern coast of Venezuela, with the special attention placed on the islands of Margarita and Cubagua and on the Peninsula of Araya on the adjacent mainland coast. By 1512 the documentary sources indicate the existence of few Spanish ‘ranchos’ on the Island of Cubagua where the indigenous peoples were used to dive for pearls. Soon after, the entire Venezuelan coast was being raided by slave expeditions and even the Lucayos, the indigenous peoples from the Bahamas were brought to Cubagua to dive for pearls. In 1523, the Spanish constructed a fort in Cumaná, on the adjacent mainland, to ‘control’ the indigenous peoples in the region and to assure the more productive phase of pearl exploitation.

In 1528, one of the very first European towns in South America was founded: Nueva Cádiz de Cubagua. Its Spanish authorities reported directly to Spain, and its jurisdiction covered the Margarita Island and the coast of Cumaná. The town was ruined and abandoned in early 1540s and the centers of the exploitation of pearls were moved to today Colombia and Panama.

Research Questions and Methodology

The research contemplates historical-archaeological study on the pearl fishery on Cubagua and the salt exploitation on Araya and on Venezuelan Caribbean islands are extraordinary cases where to investigate the multifarious interactions between the indigenous peoples from north-eastern coast of South America and the European colonists, specifically the Spanish and the Dutch. The methodology include archaeological surveys on the islands of Margarita and Coche and the subsequent analyses of encountered sites and materials, compilation and study of documentary sources, and museum research. Some of the main research questions are:

 

  • How the pearl fishery on Cubagua and the concomitant enslaving raids led by the Spanish impacted the indigenous communities and disrupted the social-political organization of their societies and their regional interconnections?
  • What was the nature and dynamics of the interactions between Spanish, Dutch and the Indigenous peoples during the period of the salt frenzy in the south-eastern Caribbean (16th17th centuries)?
  • How ‘visible’ are the specific roles played by different indigenous partialities in the above-mentioned interactions in both the historical sources and in the archaeological record?

Collections research

Collections of archaeological materials from this study area will be searched for and examined in the following holdings:

  • Museo del Mar in Punta de Piedras, Margarita Island: collection of archaeological materials from Cubagua and other potentially pertinent materials to be examined.
  • Museo en La Asunción, Margarita Island: collection of materials from Nueva Cádiz de Cubagua is hold there.
  • Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas (IVIC, Caracas): some materials from Nueva Cádiz de Cubagua are still in the deposits of this institute.
  • Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville: many ceramic and zooarchaeological collections excavated by J. M. Cruxent in Nueva Cádiz de Cubagua in the 1950s are in this museum holding.
  • Peabody Museum of Yale University, New Haven: ceramic collection excavated by J. M. Cruxent in Nueva Cádiz de Cubagua in the 1950s.

Publications & other Outcome

Following publications and international conference presentations are direct result of this research:

  1. Ma. Magdalena Antczak and Andrzej T. Antczak 2016. ‘Winged Worldviews’: Human-Bird entanglements in northern Venezuela, AD 1000–1500. Paper presented at the 82nd Annual Meeting Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, Canada (Session title: “The Caiman’s (and Frog’s) Revenge: Intersecting Papers in Honor of Peter G. Roe”, Chair: Peter Siegel).
  2. Antczak, Andrzej T. and Maria M. Antczak. 2015. Revisiting the Early 16th-Century Town of Nueva Cádiz de Cubagua, Venezuela. Paper presented at the First EAA-SAA Joint Meeting Connecting Continents. 24–27 November, Curaçao.
  3. Andrzej T. Antczak, Luis Lemoine, and Ma. Magdalena Antczak 2015. The Archaeology of the Archaic Age on Margarita Island within the Context of the Venezuelan Caribbean. Paper presented at the 81st Annual Meeting Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, USA (A. Antczak session co-organizer).
  4. Andrzej T. Antczak and Ma. Magdalena Antczak  2016. Deep-time perspectives of the socionatural dynamics in the Southern Caribbean and their ongoing consequences. Paper presented at the Conference: Caribbean Dynamics and Ecosystem Change: Caribbean, Quo vadis? Bonaire, October 18–21, 2016.
  5. Andrzej T. Antczak and Ma. Magdalena Antczak  2017. Rancherías: Historical archaeology of early colonial campsites on Margarita and Coche islands, Venezuela. Paper presented at the 82nd Annual Meeting Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, Canada (Session title: Material Encounters and Indigenous Transformations in the Early Colonial Americas, Chair:  Floris Keehnen & Corinne L. Hofman).
  6. Corinne L. Hofman and Andrzej T. Antczak (editors) (forthcoming). Early Settlers of the Insular Caribbean: Dearchaizing the Archaic. Leiden, Sidestone Press.
  7. Antczak, Andrzej T. and Corinne L. Hofman (forthcoming). Introduction: Dearchaizing the Caribbean Archaic. In Early Settlers of the Insular Caribbean: Dearchaizing the Archaic, edited by C. Hofman and A. T. Antczak. Leiden, Sidestone Press.
  8. Antczak, Andrzej T., Luis A. Lemoine Buffet, Ma. Magdalena Antczak, and Valentí Rull (forthcoming) Early indigenous occupations of Margarita Island and the Venezuelan Caribbean. In Early Settlers of the Insular Caribbean: Dearchaizing the Archaic, edited by C. Hofman and A. T. Antczak. Leiden, Sidestone Press.
  9. Hofman, Corinne L. and Andrzej T. Antczak 2018. Decolonizing  the  Colonized: NEXUS1492–New World Encounters in a Globalizing World. Paper presented at the 24th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists, 5th-8th September 2018, Barcelona, Spain.
  10. Antczak, Ma. Magdalena and Andrzej T. Antczak 2018. Paper presented at the 24th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists, 5th8th September 2018, Barcelona, Spain.
  11. Antczak, Ma. Magdalena and Andrzej T. Antczak 2018. Paper presented at the 16th ISISA Islands of the World Conference, 10th14th June 2018, Leeuwarden-Terschelling, The Netherlands.
  12. Antczak, Andrzej T. and Ma. Magdalena Antczak 2018. Being in Nueva Cádiz: Social Interaction across 1498 in the early 16th-century town on the Island of Cubagua, Venezuela. Paper presented at the 16th ISISA Islands of the World Conference, 10th14th June 2018, Leeuwarden-Terschelling, The Netherlands.

Partners in Venezuela and elsewhere

The following Venezuelan institutions will be contacted and invited to be involved in this research:

  • Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural (permissions of any on field activity should be issued by this governmental entity)
  • Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas [IVIC] (the Department of Anthropology of IVIC holds the largest collection of archaeological materials excavated in 1950s in Nueva Cadiz de Cubagua by J. M. Cruxent and these materials will be systematically documented during this research).
  • Museo del Mar in Punta de Piedras, Margarita Island (this museum holds some archaeological materials recuperated in Nueva Cádiz de Cubagua).
  • Museo in Asunción, Margarita Island (this museum also holds artefacts recuperated from Nueva Cádiz de Cubagua).
In the early 16th century Spanish caravels clashed frontally with the flux of Amerindian canoe traffic along the coast of Tierra Firme and provoked a rapid disruption of ancestral exchange systems.

The insular Caribbean and the north-eastern part of South America

This investigation is envisioned as a collaborative synthesis that aims at uniting the micro-regions that have been traditionally artificially ‘disconnected’ due to diverse colonial interests, modern nation-state boundaries, diverse languages and schools of thought and academic traditions. Through the transdisciplinary investigative synergy we analyse the similarities and differences in socio-cultural, political-economic and ideological interrelations between the Lesser Antilles (and, by extension, the Greater Antilles), the north-eastern Caribbean coast and the north-central Venezuela region, during the late pre-colonial and early colonial times. Especially when entering into the colonial period, the study area should extend to encompass not only the insular Caribbean but the entire pan-Caribbean macroregion.

Research Questions and Methodology

There are several broad-scope research questions that may be posited within this research. All of them relate to the nature of human interactions during the late pre-colonial and early colonial times. Specific research questions arise during the evolution of the collaborative research linking the specific processes identified on the coasts of northeastern South America and on the islands of the Venezuelan Caribbean with their counterparts identified by the NEXUS 1492 collaborators in the entire insular Caribbean macroregion.

As an example of a this investigative synergy we mention a research on the Indigenous-Indigenous, Indigenous-Dutch, Indigenous-Spanish and Dutch-Spanish interactions along the coasts and islands of Venezuela during 16th and 17th centuries. Local archives and small public and private collections of colonial materials in Caracas, Cumaná and in the area of the Peninsula de Araya are being investigated. Data and materials obtained from systematic excavations on La Tortuga Island are also be integrated in this research. By interweaving the multivariate strings of interrelations that might have existed between the indigenous natives and the Dutch sailors and salt-extracting crews at Araya, Unare and La Tortuga on the coast and islands of Venezuela, as well as at other contemporary sites in the insular Caribbean, valuable insights may be gained into the roles the indigenous peoples might have played in forging late 16th- and early 17th-century colonial realities. It is especially important as these realities are the building blocks of the present-day Caribbean.

Publications & other Outcome

There are several publications envisioned as a result of this collaborative and interdisciplinary research:

  1. Antczak, Andrzej T., Jay B. Haviser, Menno L. P. Hoogland, Arie Boomert, Raymundo A. C. F. Dijkhoff, Harold J. Kelly, Ma. Magdalena Antczak, and Corinne L. Hofman 2018. Early Horticulturalists of the southern Caribbean. In The Archaeology of Caribbean and Circum-Caribbean Farmers 6000 BC-AD 1500, edited by Basil A. Reid, pp. 113146. Abingdon, Routledge.  
  2. Ma. Magdalena Antczak and Andrzej T. Antczak 2017. Making Beings: Amerindian Figurines in the Caribbean. In Oxford Handbook of World Figurines, edited by T. Insoll, The Americas. Chapter 10, pp. 195220. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  3. Keehnen, Floris, W.M., Corinne L. Hofman, and Andrzej T. Antczak (editors) (forthcoming). Material Encounters and Indigenous Transformations in the Early Colonial Americas. Leiden, Brill Publishers.
  4. Antczak, Andrzej T., Ma. Magdalena Antczak and Oliver Antczak (forthcoming). Rancherías: Historical Archaeology of Early Colonial Campsites on Margarita and Coche Islands, Venezuela. In Material Encounters and Indigenous Transformations in the Early Colonial Americas, edited by Floris W. M. Keehnen, Corinne L. Hofman, and Andrzej T. Antczak. Leiden, Brill Publishers.
  5. Catarina Guzzo Falci, Annelou Van Gijn, M. Magdalena Antczak, Andrzej T. Antczak, and Corinne L. Hofman 2017. Challenges for microwear analysis of figurative shell ornaments from pre-Colonial Venezuela. Journal of Archaeological Science (Reports) 11: 115130.

The social relevance of this project is clearly delineated and the target audience includes not only  scholars and students but also journalists, amateurs, and general public. The social relevance of this research is subsumed under the leif motif: Focusing Pride in the Past. This motto, created over 30 years ago by Andrzej & Marlena Antczak include workshops for local archaeology-interested secondary schoolchildren and for tourism operators in Los Roques Archipelago as well as for different categories of local social actors in Venezuela.

The Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University provides us not only with a highly professional and inspirational atmosphere of peer staff members and students, but also include expertise, facilitates worldwide professional contacts and networking, and possesses sophisticated appliances and access to funding and specialized publications.

Connection with other research

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