Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Unraveling networks of human mobility and exchange of goods and ideas from a pre-colonial, pan-Caribbean perspective

Since the emergence of humankind people have maintained social contacts and traveled widely, establishing interaction networks in which goods are traded and ideas are transmitted, increasingly on a global scale.

Corinne Hofman

Like today, prehistoric community members participated in interaction networks of human mobility and exchange of goods and ideas, guided by their cosmovision, technology and socio-political organisation. The urge to garner status, thereby defining group and individual identity, and the desire for access to myriad materials and products formed important motivations.

This programme focuses on the Amerindian interaction networks operating between 6000 BC and the early Colonial period in the Caribbean from a pan-regional perspective (Figure 1). Only by the novel adoption of a diachronic, broad geographic perspective can the structure through time of these social networks be evaluated at local, archipelagic and - uniquely - pan-Caribbean scales. Expanding upon the applicant’s NWO Programmatic, ASPASIA and VIDI programmes, this research will take an integrated three-dimensioned and multi-disciplinary approach to study the processes and underlying mechanisms of human mobility (social dimension) as well as the exchange of goods (material dimension) and ideas (ideological dimension), through the synergy of three subprojects.

The programme brings a pioneering pan-regional perspective to the study of communication and interaction, elucidating the articulation of engagements between prehistoric island and coastal communities of differing socio-political complexity, filling a lacuna in mobility and exchange research worldwide. Innovative aspects are the application and refinement of state-of-the-art archaeological, bioarchaeological and archaeometric methods and techniques (e.g. isotope analysis, a-DNA, XRF), the implementation of current archaeological / anthropological theory, and the drawing upon ethnohistorical and ethnographic information on a pan-Caribbean scale. This poly-facetted approach requires national and international inter-institutional cooperation. Due to its wide-ranging, accessible and high-profile character, the programme stimulates the awareness and protection of Caribbean cultural heritage.

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