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28th Congress for the International Association for Caribbean Archaeology

Sunday 21 July 2019 - Saturday 27 July 2019
Barbados Museum & Historical Society
St. Ann's Garrison
BB14038 Bridgetown, Barbados

Re-Examining Self: Caribbean Archaeology in the 21st Century

The 2019 IACA Congress is an opportunity to look inward at the practice of archaeology in the Caribbean at a moment of political, social, and environmental urgency. Archaeological research continues to make tremendous contributions to how the past is studied, understood and presented in the midst of drastic regional changes as a result of global economics and climate change. This conference asks Caribbean archaeologists to think critically and reflexively about our discipline as we take stock of where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. The theme, “Re-Examining Self: Caribbean Archaeology in the 21st Century”, encourages delegates to question the precepts of archaeology as a field of research and study as we query how the field is growing and changing in the modern world. We welcome participants to address these broad questions in their specific contributions to the proceedings: How must regional archaeology change to attend to the needs of local communities and island nations/territories? Who makes the decisions about archaeology as a field of study and whose stories are we prioritising? Who benefits and how are we working to engage new participants and areas of study? How does our work relate to museum practices and heritage management? How does the past affect the contemporary realities of the region? And how can archaeologists play a role in the pursuit of social/reparatory justice, human rights, or environmental preservation in the Caribbean?


Several NEXUS1492-team members will be attending and presenting at this years IACA conference. Read about what they will be talking about below!

Nexus 1492: A Transdisciplinary Approach to the Archaeology and Legacies of Colonial Inter-Cultural Dynamics in the Caribbean 
Corinne L. Hofman and Jorge Ulloa Hung

European expansion into the non-western world at the end of the 15th century represents a landmark in global history. Indigenous societies were suddenly and dramatically transformed. People responded to the colonial invasion in various ways and attempted to negotiate, sometimes successfully, interactions with Europe. Yet indigenous voices often remain marginalized in colonial and post-colonial historiographies, overwritten by narratives of conquest and hegemony. The archaeological record of the Caribbean is perfectly suited to provide completely novel insights into these infamous histories by uncovering the indigenous perspectives hitherto biased by still dominant Eurocentric viewpoints. This paper reviews six years of collaborative research into the past and present impacts of colonialism  and particularly focuses on inter-cultural dynamics, indigenous continuities and persistence in the region.

Present-day house altar in the northern Dominican Republic showing influences from Amerindian, African, and Christian belief systems (Photo courtesy of Pablo Lozano).

Challenging the Discourse—How Community Archaeology Changed the Discussion on Indigenous and Colonial Heritage in Grenada
John Angus Martin

Many Grenadians are superficially aware of the island’s Indigenous past, having learned in school or read about the Arawaks and Caribs (Kalinago), the so-called cannibalism of the Caribs, and the “extinction” of the Caribs at Leapers’ Hill. The discourse is rather basic and littered with errors and misinformation, but remains part of the school curricula. In 2016 a team from the Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University carried out archaeological excavations in the village of La Poterie in search of locating a Kalinago village. The project engaged the community on multiple levels, with local students as volunteers and several community members hired to assist on the dig. The site witnessed a constant stream of visitors, including primary school students, television news, newspapers and many who were interested in learning more about the site and the work being done there. As a result, several news stories aired on television and in newspapers, and some were also shared on social media, creating a buzz of excitement unknown around Indigenous heritage.

This presentation will examine the impact the two seasons of archaeological excavations at La Poterie (2016, 2017) had on the local and national community in furthering a better understanding of Indigenous heritage and the role archaeology can play in enhancing that understanding, as well as how they initiated and fostered the national discussion of Indigenous and colonial heritage in their immediate aftermath.

Connecting Dominican Indigenous Collections back to the Community
Arlene Alvarez

The history of the formation of indigenous heritage collections in the Dominican Republic has been understudied and its origins are often linked to private collectionism, even for material culture in public care. The lack of context attached to public and private collections in the country has led to a stagnant incorporation of museum collections into archaeological research. Outdated information and poorly designed educational programs about Indigenous heritage collections has created a disconnection with communities.

This presentation highlights the analysis of the nature of the legislation for holding and exhibiting archaeological artifacts and my research findings related to the main characteristics of Dominican Indigenous heritage collections and community interactions that result from the connection with the cultural knowledge that collections generate.  The opinions and valuations that are expressed by different stakeholders can be used to improve access and connection to Indigenous heritage collections and design best practices to contribute to the enrichment of heritage conservation initiatives at a national and regional level.   

Co-creating a Participatory Exhibition on Indigenous Caribbean Heritage with 12 Partner Countries
Tibisay Sankatsing Nava

Between May and July 2019, 12 adaptations of the international exhibition Caribbean Ties opened across the Caribbean and Europe. This exhibition is the result of two years of co-creation with over 15 partners across the Caribbean and presents the findings of 6 years of research in the region.

The exhibition shares the results of the latest scientific research undertaken by the NEXUS1492 project. Local partners have collaborated to develop a common story that is presented internationally and have adapted the exhibition for locally relevant narratives. To engage new participants with the research results, exhibition is presented in a variety of venues: museums, community centers and universities across the region. Participatory elements in the exhibition invite visitors to share in the interpretation and creation of meaning. In addition, exhibition audiences in 12 countries are also invited to contribute their ideas for future research questions. Combining these local, regional, and global perspectives, the exhibition focuses on the connections between past and present indigenous cultures and current multi-ethnic Caribbean communities, and as such explores the living and current impact of indigenous heritage.

The presentation examines how archaeological research and participatory exhibitions can shift the perspective from which we tell stories of the past, based on the experiences with and audience participation components of Caribbean Ties. It also explores the challenges and needs of local communities and heritage institutions, identified in the development of this regional heritage project.

From Trinidad’s Pitch Lake to Guahayona’s Journey: Origin of the ‘Taíno’/Arawak Foundation Myth
Arie Boomert

According to a mythical tale, narrated locally in the early 1800s, Trinidad’s Pitch Lake originated when one night a village of Chaima Indians sank beneath the surface of the earth at this location as an apparent punishment for their killing of the hummingbirds living here, who actually represented the souls of dead ancestors. This narrative appears to be a modified portion of the famous Arawak (Lokóno) mythological cycle explaining the vicissitudes of Arawanili, the first Arawak shaman, which was first written down in the 1840s on the mainland. There exists a systematic correspondence between this Lokóno foundation myth and the mythological cycle centering on the culture hero Guahayona, recorded by Ramón Pané among the ‘Taíno’ Amerindians of the Greater Antilles in the 1490s. All of this suggests that the ‘Taíno’ myth is derived from the Lokóno one or, more likely, from a prototype of both, clearly illustrating the close cultural relationship between the Arawakan-speaking peoples of the tropical lowlands of South America and the indigenous inhabitants of the Greater Antilles, probably dating back to Saladoid times.   

Zoomorphic (jaguar-shaped?) wooden bench, encountered as an individual find in the Pitch Lake, Trinidad, dating from Saladoid times (ca. 500 cal AD) (Photo courtesy of A. Boomert).

Starchy Foodways: Northern Caribbean Precolonial Plant Processing
Andy J. Ciofalo

Late precolonial (c. CE 1200-1492) investigations of botanical foodways in the northern Caribbean have yet to be systematically carried out. The culinary practices and the pathways that dietary plants coursed through can be reconstructed through analyzed microbotanical residues (starches). To create a realistic vision of human-plant interactions, this paper synthesizes evidence from 105 presumed plant related artifacts. This study was carried out to explicate variations of culinary practices from three archaeological sites: El Flaco and La Luperona in northwestern Dominican Republic, and Palmetto Junction in the southern Bahamas. The concept of human niche construction has been applied to interpret the evidence and explore culinary practices in this part of the northern Caribbean. This reconstruction of foodways has exposed particular human niche constructions and contributes to ongoing debates regarding culinary practices in the precolonial Caribbean.

Archaeology and Community Engagement at Two Cayo Sites in St.Vincent and Grenada
Menno L.P. Hoogland and Corinne L. Hofman

Rescue excavations at two Cayo sites in St. Vincent and Grenada were carried out between 2009 and 2017 by a team of Leiden University in collaboration with the local GOs, NGOs and (Kalinago and Garifuna) communities. The site of Argyle (St. Vincent) is a single component site, while La Poterie (Grenada) is  multi-component and has an older 10th century, Troumassoid, and a later, early 18th century mixed Amerindian-Afro-Caribbean occupation. The Cayo occupations are radiocarbon dated between the late 15th and early 17th century. The mixed indigenous (Cayo) and European material culture repertoire points to hitherto undocumented interactions and inter-cultural dynamics, archaeologically exposing the first Kalinago-European contacts  in the Lesser Antilles. The village layout and house plans are concurrent with those described in the early European documentary sources. The confrontation of the archaeological data with two actualistic archaeological studies from the Guianas, helped to conceptualize the dynamics of village organization and better understand the palimpsest of features documented in the field. The findings have cumulated in the recent experimental (re)-construction of the Cayo village at the Argyle International Airport and a community project at La Poterie.  

Experimental (re)construction of a Cayo village at the Argyle International Airport (photo NEXUS1492).

Exploring Lead Exposure Amongst Enslaved Africans: New Isotopic Evidence from Newton Plantation, Barbados
Jason Laffoon, Kristrina Shuler, and Hannes Schroeder

Isotopic analysis of archaeological skeletal materials has become an increasingly popular and effective tool for investigating ancient migrations, mobility and provenance. Lead (Pb) isotope analysis of dental enamel has demonstrated its efficacy both for identifying non-local individuals, and for assessing exposure to anthropogenic lead sources. The aims of this study were to identify and characterize anthropogenic lead sources on a 17th/18th century Barbadian plantation and to test if lead isotope analyses can be used to identify the origins of first-generation African immigrants in colonial era contexts. Lead isotope analyses was conducted on dental enamel samples from 24 individuals from the Newton Plantation cemetery, which had previously been analyzed for strontium and oxygen isotope composition (Schroeder et al., 2009) and Pb concentrations (Schroeder et al., 2013). The results are that the lead isotope signatures of both locals and non-locals are distinct from the local Barbadian geology, but overlap with British lead sources. However, among seven individuals who had previously been identified as African-born based on their strontium and oxygen isotope composition and low Pb concentrations, only one falls outside of the British lead isotope composition. This possibly indicates that even the Pb isotope signatures of African-born individuals have been impacted by exposure to anthropogenic Pb sources either via in vivo or post-mortem contamination. We conclude that lead isotope analyses alone might not be suitable for identifying African-born individuals in diasporic contexts. However, they can help to identify and further characterize the sources of lead used on the plantations.

Re-examining Pearls: A Technological and Microwear Study of a Lapidary Assemblage from Grenada
Catarina Guzzo Falci, Annelou van Gijn, and Corinne L. Hofman

Lapidary materials from Saladoid and Huecoid contexts have been studied through multiple approaches, in particular with the aims of identifying raw materials, production technologies, and networks of circulation. In the present paper, we reconsider one of the main lapidary workshops known for the Early Ceramic Age period: the site of Pearls on Grenada. Previous research at the site and regional syntheses have noted its important role in interaction networks connecting different Caribbean islands and surrounding continental regions. However, it is well-known that Pearls has been severely damaged over the decades, notably through looting and bulldozing. In this panorama, we conducted a technological and microwear study of a private collection from the site, in order to further assess raw material and technological variability. We reflect on the limitations to the study of an assemblage formed in such conditions and re-contextualize it by contrasting our dataset to other Antillean sites. Our results show that diverse lithologies were (partially) worked at Pearls by the use of production techniques adapted to their varied physical properties. Different production logics and modalities of material acquisition could also be identified, allowing us to propose new patterns of lapidary circulation across the Caribbean Sea.

Microscopic study of lapidary materials from the site of Pearls, Grenada (photo courtesy of Catarina G. Falci)

The Exchange of (Green) Stone Axes: Functional and Technological Insights
Thomas W. Breukel, Annelou van Gijn, and Corinne L. Hofman

Research into the circulation of greenstone celts has produced novel insights into interaction patterns during the Ceramic Age. The long-distance exchange of jadeitite has been demonstrated, and studies highlight that stone celt production was often monopolised by certain communities. Nevertheless, much remains unclear about the importance attributed to particular raw materials, the technologies used to manufacture celts, the social effects that drove their circulation and were produced by it, and so on. Here, we discuss the biographical analysis of four celt assemblages: Pearls (Grenada) and El Flaco, El Cabo, and Playa Grande (Dominican Republic). This involved an experiment-based study of microscopic traces of wear relating to the technology and function of the artefacts. We demonstrate that jadeitite celt biographies are not significantly different from those made of other raw materials, that morphologies change over time as a result of use, and that movements across spatial contexts are social and technological necessities during the life cycle of celts.

Experimental and microscopic research conducted by T. Breukel (photo courtesy of T. Breukel).

The 28th IACA will be hosted by the Barbados Museum & Historical Society. For more information, please visit their webiste, or go to the official IACA website

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