Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Leiden in the Caribbean

The research involves the application and combination of archaeological and archaeometrical methodologies. Petrographic analysis and isotopic provenance studies of raw materials and exotics, and the study of the distribution patterns of these materials are used to gain insight into the exchange of goods among the insular societies.

Contact
Arie Boomert

The Caribbean culture area stretches from northern South America to Cuba. The Caribbean was first settled by preceramic hunters, fishers and food collectors from ca. 6000 BC onwards. These earliest immigrants were followed by horticulturalists who moved into the Antilles about 500 BC, introducing the ceramics of the Saladoid series from the region of the Orinoco Valley on the mainland. Their dispersed habitation pattern indicates the selective choice of settlement locations while the Saladoid pottery, showing highly symbolic design motifs, and lithic artefacts recall the population’s South American origin and its adherence to a well-established region-wide cultural tradition.

The mainland connection diminished through time and between AD 400 and 600/800 one sees a clear intensification of island settlement and the establishment of distinctly local exchange and communication networks. These networks were intensified in the following epoch, between AD 600/800 and 1200 when independent local polities were consolidated. By AD 1000 this process led to the emergence of the ‘Taino’ cacicazgos (chiefdoms) in the Greater Antilles, the power of the chiefs or caciques of which was strengthened due to ancestral veneration. It resulted in the development of settlement hierarchies and the expansion of elaborate exchange networks. Influences from the Taino cacicazgos are salient on many islands of the Lesser Antilles. In 1492 the Greater Antilles were conquered by the Spanish, which initiated the ultimate decimation of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean islands.

The research involves the application and combination of archaeological and archaeometrical methodologies. Petrographic analysis and isotopic provenance studies of raw materials and exotics, and the study of the distribution patterns of these materials are used to gain insight into the exchange of goods among the insular societies. Use wear analysis is employed to determine function and use of the pre-Columbian lithic, shell and coral artefacts. Ancient DNA and radiogenic isotopic analysis, paleopathology and the study of mortuary ritual are applied to human skeletal remains from the Antilles in order to target issues as mobility, marital and residence rules as well as descent among the island groups.

Ethnohistoric accounts from the islands and ethnographic information from the South American mainland are used to support the archaeological data and to provide an integrated view of the interaction networks evinced by the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the insular Caribbean in the light of their spiritual or cosmological experience.

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