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NEXUS1492 RMA graduates of 2018!

With the start of the new academic year NEXUS1492 would like to extend congratulations to Noortje Wauben, Gene Shev, and Emma de Mooij for graduating from the RMA track ‘Religion and Society in Native American Cultures’ over the summer. All three students wrote theses related to various aspects of the NEXUS1492 project and received excellent grades and evaluations. Read about their research below!

Noortje, Gene, and Emma at one of the Caribbean Research Group's weekly tutorials at the Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University (photo courtesy of Corinne Hofman).

Expressive and Performative Material Culture: Investigating the Social Roles of Ceramic Adornos from the Site of El Flaco (10th -15th century) in the Northwestern Dominican Republic

Noortje Wauben

Ceramic adornos are found widely distributed throughout the archaeological record of the circum-Caribbean. Nevertheless, previous studies on adornos are few in number and, as a result, many questions concerning the cultural relevance and social role(s) of adornos remain to great extent unanswered. However, the systematic excavation of an assemblage of 277 adornos and/or their fragments from the site of El Flaco (northwestern Dominican Republic), directed by Professors Corinne L. Hofman and Menno L. P. Hoogland as part of the ERC-synergy NEXUS1492 project, provides a unique opportunity to address these issues.

The main objective of the analysis of the adornos from El Flaco is to contribute to a better understanding of the potential social roles of adornos (understood as their expressive and performative potential) within the society of their creators and users. It is proposed that the adornos from El Flaco may have expressed a multitude of cosmological concepts, which are interpreted to emphasize access to esoteric knowledge, a link to the ancestral lineage, and/or household or communal identity. Additionally, the performative potential of the adornos refers to their possible roles as co-enactors in the maintenance of good social relations with particular nonhuman beings and/or as intermediaries between the three planes of cosmos. Finally, the adornos are suggested to have been conceived of as dividual and partible persons, and could, therefore, have played a significant part in the maintenance of social relations among communities through the exchange of adorno-models.

Noortje analyzing ceramics in the lab in Loma de Guayacanes, Dominican Republic (photo courtesy of NEXUS1492)

Feeding Opiuelguobirán: A multidisciplinary analysis of human-canid relations in pre-colonial Hispaniola

Gene Shev

The introduction of the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) in the insular Caribbean likely occurred during the Early Ceramic Age (c. 400 BC – AD 500), coinciding with the arrival of Saladoid peoples and the fluorescence of Huecoid cultures in the Greater and Lesser Antilles. However, the precise regional origins of this animal are currently unknown. Numerous studies have indicated the feasibility of using dogs as an isotopic surrogate for palaeodietary reconstruction in humans, which is telling of the high level of entanglement of humans and dogs expressed in the sharing of foodways. Shared dietary relationships with humans, ritual interment and symbolic depictions of dogs raise questions about the nuanced placement of this animal within the indigenous cultural taxonomies of the insular Caribbean. Dog remains are found both ritually interred and in domestic contexts throughout the region, suggesting that dogs were both highly valued as companions, and also possibly seen as a viable source of food. In order to understand this dichotomous treatment Viveiros de Castro’s “Amerindian perspectivism” and Descola’s notions of “animism” provided theoretical frameworks in which to analysis how dogs featured within the cosmological and cultural taxonomy of pre-colonial peoples in the insular Caribbean. For this study, data generated from archaeozoological and multi-isotopic analyses of dogs from the pre-colonial sites of El Flaco and El Carril in the Dominican Republic was compared to findings from three select sites in the Lesser Antilles: Cathédrale de Basse-Terre and Morel in Guadeloupe, and Hope Estate in St Martin. The aim of this research was to: a) establish the effectiveness of the isotopic surrogacy approach in the Caribbean; b) examine any regional differences reflected in the diets of dogs; c) determine if there are any observable distinctions in the morphology and diets of buried dogs and those uncovered from non-burial contexts; d) and to interpret why this dichotomous treatment was occurring using a perspectival theoretical framework. The results indicate that there may have been at least two morphologically distinct types of dogs in Hispaniola in support of what is mentioned in the ethnohistorical sources. These types likely underwent differential treatment by humans, with one particular type more inclined to be buried suggesting a higher value placed on this breed as a valued companion and consubstantial nonhuman person. The burial of one individual dog alongside the deceased at El Flaco may be a funerary offering, representing a psychopomp in the likeness of the ‘Taíno’ guardian of the dead cemíOpiyelguobirán.

Gene analyzing animal bones at the fieldwork house in Loma de Guayacanes, Dominican Republic (photo courtesy of NEXUS1492).

Conceptualizing the Caribbean Archaeological Record. Interpreting features from an ethnographic perspective at the Late Ceramic Age site of El Flaco in the northwestern Dominican Republic

Emma de Mooij

Ethnoarchaeological studies in the pre-colonial Caribbean are limited. This research presents a pilot investigation that employs an innovative approach to understanding the spatial and temporal developments of the Late Ceramic Age site of El Flaco, northwestern Dominican Republic (excavated in the context of the ERC-synergy project Nexus1492: New World Encounters in a Globalising World), through the study of three key features: postholes, hearths, and mounds. These are material manifestations of past human activities and inform archaeologists on issues of structure building activities, cooking activities, and the myriad activities that result in the stratigraphic build-up of mounds.

Following Ingold (1993, 2000), this research approaches each sample of studied features as a place-based taskscape. This allows each feature to be studied separately, as well as in relation to each other. To subsequently arrive at a well-informed interpretation, the archaeological record is conceptualized with the use of an interpretative visibility (sensu Mans 2012, 179). The interpretative visibility is developed and enhanced by consulting archaeological and ethnographic sources focused on the pre-colonial and modern Indigenous lifeways of Amazonia, as well as on archaeological sources focused on Indigenous lifeways of the pre-colonial Insular Caribbean. Moreover, it is supplemented by three informal ethnographic case studies of present-day living situations in the northwestern Dominican Republic. To translate the interpretative visibility to the archaeological record of El Flaco, methodological parameters have been extracted from the ethnoarchaeological studies conducted in modern Amazonia by Mans (2012) and Duin (2009). The interpretative visibility intends to function as a source of inspiration for the interpretation of the archaeological record of El Flaco. It does not intend to equate one with the other.

By contrasting and comparing the interpretative framework with the archaeological data, using the methodological parameters extracted from the studies by Mans (2012) and Duin (2009), this research has developed meaningful interpretations of the spatial interrelationships and developments of the features studied. The analysis of posthole features confirms the presence of a large habitation structure that was periodically repaired or perhaps fully rebuilt over time. Hearth features evidence a use in both domestic and ritual spheres and are characteristically different dependent on their use.

Finally, the stratigraphy of the mounds attests to both long- and short-term activities that take place on the mounds, such as the burning of trash, or elsewhere at the site, such as the building of new structures. The results of this study successfully contribute towards the understanding of the dynamics and developments of the pre-colonial village of El Flaco through space and time.

Emma in the field at El Flaco, Dominican Republic (photo courtesy of NEXUS1492).
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