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NEXUS 1492: New World Encounters In A Globalising World

NEXUS1492 investigates the impacts of colonial encounters in the Caribbean, the nexus of the first interactions between the New and the Old World.

Introduction to the research project

NEXUS1492 will address intercultural Amerindian-European-African dynamics at multiple temporal and spatial scales across the historical divide of 1492. This trans-disciplinary synergy project develops new analytical tools, applies mutli-disciplinary cutting-edge techniques, evaluates theoretical frameworks and transfers skill sets to provide a novel perspective on New World encounters in a globalizing world. Cooperating with local experts we will develop sustainable heritage management strategies, creating a future for the past. A past which is under threat from looting, illegal trade, construction development, and natural disasters (e.g., climate change, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions). Placing the Caribbean’s indigenous past within a contemporary heritage agenda will increase the awareness and protection of heritage resources. The research proposal can be found here.

NEXUS1492 is sub-divided into four projects

Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Corinne L. Hofman

Project 1 forms the archaeological backbone of NEXUS1492 and aims to examine transformations of indigenous cultures and societies across the historical divide, bridging the pre-colonial and colonial era (AD 1000-1800). Central questions include: How did indigenous societies deal with European colonisation and how did they reorient themselves in the face of constantly shifting power relations as reflected in the archaeological record? How did change manifest itself in terms of lifeways and deathways? How did Amerindian settlement organisation and settlement patterns, and environmental settings change after European encounters? How did technological traditions change across the historical divide and how are they reflected in artefact assemblages?

Lifeways and Deathways

The impacts of 1492 resulted in cultural and physical transformations in and renegotiations of Caribbean Amerindian lifeways and deathways. Yet, the nature of these transformations is poorly understood and understudied due to traditional perceptions on rapid Amerindian demise after the first encounters. Research in other regions of the Americas has demonstrated that the bioarchaeological record uniquely reflects the role of indigenous populations in contact settings and documents changes in health and disease, biological and social identities, diet, physical activity and workload, and burial practices (e.g., Larsen et al. 2001). This subproject will take a similar approach, but will apply multiple scales of social analyses, from the individual to the community, and to entire populations to explicitly empirical data. The impacts of European encounters will be assessed through a comparative analysis of late precolonial and early colonial burial assemblages from the Greater and Lesser Antilles. These assemblages will be examined for local variations in physical (e.g., increased workload, diseases, malnourishment) responses to encounter situations, for cultural (e.g., mortuary practices) changes anticipated by the confrontation of different worldviews and religious practices after 1492, and the changing biological identities due to mixing of different ancestries (e.g., intermarriage of Amerindians, Africans, and Europeans). The latest techniques in bioarchaeological, genetic and archaeothanatological research will be employed, building on previous work undertaken by the Leiden Caribbean Research Group.

Landscapes in Transformation

Colonisation had profound impacts on the structure and organisation of native landscapes, resulting in forced depopulation, dispersal and re-aggregation of Amerindian communities, imposition of new labour regimes and reorganisation of land-use for new industrial practices, formation of inter-ethnic spaces, and militarisation and mobilisation of Amerindian groups. A multi-scalar, integrated landscape approach will address Amerindian settlement organisation and settlement patterns, land-use, and landscape transformations as a result of colonial processes. Multi-disciplinary case-studies in the Dominican Republic and the Lesser Antilles will combine archaeological, historical, cartographic, paleo-environmental, and remote satellite and aerial data. This subproject will also document present-day landscape transformations, which destroy archaeological sites and ancient landscapes, and through synergy with Project 4, will provide a tool for local heritage management in the islands.

Changing Material Culture Repertoires

The earliest chronicles indicate that from first encounters Amerindians and Europeans were involved in exchange relationships. Despite dramatic differences in worldviews, values and aesthetics, European objects were rapidly introduced and circulated within indigenous networks. Attitudinal differences towards valuable objects led to the creation of new social and material worlds (Deagan 2003). The mixing of Amerindian and European artefacts in 15-16th century sites across the Caribbean and the presence of 17th century Amerindian pottery inlaid with European beads in the Lesser Antilles (revealed by Leiden excavations at Argyle, St. Vincent) reflect these early trade relationships. In addition, the differential inclusion of escaped African slaves by Amerindian communities beginning in the 16th century led to the creation of entirely new social identities and changing material culture repertoires. Amerindian-African-European intercultural dynamics are still reflected in present-day Afro-Caribbean earthenware which represents the last in a long line of local pottery manufacturing traditions in the Caribbean islands. This subproject aims to analyse transformation processes in material culture repertoires by studying (1) Amerindian ceramic manufacture and style across the historical divide, (2) mixed Amerindian-African-European assemblages dating to the early colonial period, and (3) present-day Afro-Caribbean ceramic manufacture.

Principal Investigator: Prof. Gareth R. Davies, PhD

Three sub-projects within Project 2 focus on the development and application of a diverse array of archaeometric and biogeochemical methods to address transformations in patterns of human mobility and diet and the circulation of materials and objects across the historical divide.

Technique Optimization

Methodological development will focus on two core aspects: (1) optimisation of analytical methodologies using cutting-edge collector technology to obtain Sr-Nd-Pb isotopic ratios on sub ng samples, and (2) extracting provenance information from bone material previously considered unsuitable due to potential diagenetic effects. One important aspect of this study will be validation that miniaturised ultra low blank techniques (~pg) are viable for samples with different matrixes. The second aspect will evaluate the potential of extracting Sr from bone protein. Elemental turnover times for collagen, osteocalcin and bioapatite in bones of different densities will be tested using human tissues of individuals known to have changed location during their life time. Further validation work will be conducted on human bones with known depositional history to establish the veracity of Sr isotopes as a provenance indicator in an archaeological context. If successful, comparison of Sr isotopes between tooth enamel and bone osteocalcin has the potential to provide direct evidence of migration of an individual.

Isotopic Perspective on Human Mobility or Diet

Recent multi-disciplinary research has revealed that complex and diverse patterns of mobility existed among various pre-colonial Caribbean populations, patterns that varied significantly over space and time. To date, integrated isotopic approaches using multiple isotope analysis have not been extensively applied in the Caribbean despite their great potential to assess the transformations of mobility and dietary patterns across the historical divide and at varying temporal and spatial scales. This research will apply C-N-O-Sr isotope analysis to archaeological human remains using IRMS and TIMS to examine transformations in patterns of Amerindian mobility and diet across the historical divide. This study builds on large isotope databases of Caribbean populations. Another study will assess the efficacy of lead (Pb) and neodymium (Nd) isotopes in dental enamel as provenance indicators. Pb elemental concentrations and Pb isotope analyses of human remains can be used to identify access to metallurgical technologies that were absent in the pre-colonial Caribbean. Identification of exposure to anthropogenic Pb can provide empirical evidence of cultural provenance and the differential adoption of European cultural traditions, especially in mixed burial populations spanning the pre-colonial and colonial eras.

Circulation of Materials and Objects

Despite their potential to substantially improve our understandings of the specific nature and scale of socio-economic transformations during the onset of the colonial period, provenance studies of archaeological materials are still underutilized in the Caribbean. This study will determine isotopic and elemental compositional signatures imprinted in artefacts spanning the historical divide. Pottery, lithic, and metal artefacts and objects of both Amerindian and European origin will be analyzed to determine their provenance and geographical distribution. One subproject will determine the compositional characteristics of late pre-colonial and early colonial ceramic and lithic assemblages, and characterise potential raw material sources and provenance areas of finished objects. Particular focus will be laid on transformations in the utilisation of source areas and materials through time. The integration of multiple isotopic and elemental analytical methodologies should prove particularly effective in recognising distinct clay and lithic sources. The other study will evaluate and apply different methods for minimally destructive sampling, chemical characterisation, and isotope analysis of highquality artefacts, such as items of personal adornment, to determine their provenance. Use of a portable laser sampling system, an essentially non-destructive methodology, will permit the analysis of rare or unique artefacts. Optimisation of sampling methods in general and minimisation of sample sizes (and thus damage to artefacts) in particular will greatly enhance the number and types of archaeometric methods that can be applied to rare and unique objects that cannot be analysed with traditional methods.

Macroscopically non-destructive sampling of greenstone and jadeitite artefacts to investigate trade routes used by Caribbean communities around the Colonial contact period.

Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Ulrik Brandes

Project 3 addresses the transformations of archaeological networks of people, objects and ideas across the historical divide by foundational research on ways of reconstructing archaeological networks from sparse, fragmented and dissimilar datasets, driven by and tested in case-studies of interdependent, multi-level Amerindian networks in the period AD 1000-1800. Unparalleled by conventional methods, network approaches bring to archaeology the potential to model relations between past cultures, communities and individuals as opposed to emphasising the inherent qualities of such entities.

Modeling Geo-Temporal Networks

Previous work on spatio-temporally constrained network formation needs substantial expansion to become applicable to archaeological data. The subproject aims to develop models based on hypotheses on processes influencing networks such as capacity and speed-constrained transportation or trading volumes. Besides its implications for archaeology, theory-driven, yet empirically testable, models for network dynamics are interesting in their own right.

Expanding on previous research on missing data and link prediction, the subproject will also focus on model- driven imputation of network data. As an initial step, and eventually for use as a baseline, it is intended to turn around the use of stochastic network models from parameter estimation of structural factors to structural completion via partial sampling.

A complex trait that characterises archaeological networks is that they are built from fragmentary data and rely on multiple sources of information. Many of these lines of evidence serve as indirect proof for the existence of relations in networks. A study will devise and test statistical models of complex multi-level networks for empirical consistency to inform theory building, and develop new graph- theoretic methods for the analysis of complex multi-level networks. In the absence of appropriate visualisation methods, this study will develop new graph drawing methods to visually explore samples from our models, as well as evidence collected in Projects 1 and 2.

Network Transformations Across the Historical Divide

An archaeological network view on indigenous histories of the early colonial period with its relational, material, and temporal approach shows that this period is shaped by network processes that are deeply anchored in the Amerindian past of the region. New, vast networks emerged out of the intercultural dynamics between Amerindians and Europeans (and later also Africans), thereby radically changing the local and regional networks of peoples, goods and ideas which developed in the region over 5000 years, defining the Caribbean as a nexus of such processes.

The aims of the subproject are to document how Caribbean Amerindians renegotiated, adapted and integrated new networks in the face of colonial encounters by retracing them to the indigenous local and regional networks; to study material culture in networks as a proxy and catalyst. The goal is to collect, research and discuss data on the evolution of interdependent networks ranging from the local to the inter-regional level. The resulting multi-level network data will be modelled and analysed with the new methods and perspectives developed within the project.

Another goal is to combine material culture and network theory to study how material culture can be used as a proxy to reconstruct colonial social networks and which role material culture takes as a catalyst in sparking or shaping network transformations. The study will specifically focus on interdependent sets of material culture that are related to the production, distribution and consumption of superior goods and services (e.g., tobacco, feathers, gold, valuable objects). The resulting object networks will create feedback for the modelling of proxies and cross-structural dependencies and the results will be used to build on novel theories of the ‘materiality of things in networks’ .

Formerly directed by the late Prof. dr. Willem J. H. Willems, currently by Prof. Corinne L. Hofman

Project 4 addresses the views on and uses of the Caribbean past as cultural heritage in the present. This project aims to construct inclusive participatory policies, connecting cultural continuity of indigenous heritage with the interaction dynamics of present-day, multi-ethnic Caribbean society while creating sustainable heritage policies regarding immediate human and natural threats to the archaeological record. Three subprojects will deal with (1) practical tools for heritage management: legislation and documentation, (2) the relationship between communities and museum collections, and (3) the engagement of communities through outreach and collaboration.

Managing the Past: Dealing with Heritage in a Caribbean Context

This subproject investigates the impact of culture contact on perceptions of heritage and legislation in the Caribbean. Caribbean heritage policies reveal a complex background along the lines of former European powers, with their legal traditions applied in various geopolitical contexts: French, Spanish, Dutch, and English. The impact of colonialism on heritage practices in the Caribbean can potentially lead to unintended mechanisms of social exclusion, because current policies and practices, as in other parts of the world, are often based on western heritage discourses. This subproject will produce an in-depth analysis of the situation. Diverse geopolitical, historical, and contemporary frameworks of national heritage policies and discourses will be compared in order to identify common issues in policy/enforcement and better integrate policies on local and regional levels through best practices and capacity building. Specific attention is given to issues of cultural ownership and identity of Caribbean communities.

Power of the Past: Communities and Museums

This subproject analyses the relationships between museum objects and communities, considering museums as places of encounter, sharing, and heritage formation. Caribbean artefacts can potentially generate scholarly and societal debate on histories of cultural encounters, indigenous heritage, and new identity formations. Caribbean artefacts are housed in a variety of collections, ranging from private holdings to major museums in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the world, resulting in differential access to heritage for the general public. Although there exists a wealth of scientific literature on Caribbean pre-colonial culture and heritage, museum catalogues focus primarily on art and aesthetics often ignoring historical connections and their political and social potential to address heritage formation within the Caribbean. The nature and condition of museums and collections with regard to their role in community education, artefact conservation, and raising historical awareness varies widely throughout the Caribbean, often due to insufficient financial and legislative support. Currently no comprehensive study has attempted to assess this situation. A concrete outcome of this subproject is the creation of a travelling exhibition developed in collaboration with local heritage institutions and local communities that addresses issues regarding Caribbean heritage in the past, present, and future, thereby voicing multiple perspectives of the past using the results of NEXUS1492.

Engaging with the Past: Community Outreach and Participation

One of the main challenges in Caribbean heritage management is raising local awareness and understanding of the importance of protection of heritage resources (see e.g. Siegel and Righter 2011). With some notable exceptions, current multi-ethnic culture and society considers the pre-colonial Amerindian populations as fundamentally different. In order to develop long-lasting and successful heritage preservation policies this subproject aims to engage the public by focussing on more general connections, stressing the continuity of the complex, dynamic and multivocal character of social processes in the region. In this way the indigenous Amerindian past (and its relationship with present-day indigenous peoples) can be positively incorporated in an inclusive and creative Caribbean cultural memory. The following two approaches will be adopted: (1) public education, and (2) active community participation and collaboration.

NEXUS1492 Activity Map

ERC Synergy NEXUS1492 is an ERC-Synergy Research project led by Leiden University, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and University of Konstanz. NEXUS1492 is an ERC-Synergy Project from the European Research Council under the EU's 7th Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) / ERC grant agreement n° 319209.
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