Islands at the crossroads: Archaeology of interaction in the caribbean

Mark W. Hauser, L. Antonio Curet

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


Essays in this volume tackle the question of interaction, albeit from remarkably different time periods (colonial vs. pre- Columbian) on sites that encompass a range of activities: The working of shell in the age of the industrial revolution to the intercontinental transshipment of goods during a time when people made a living through the growing of manioc and the giving of gifts with meaning. While the assembling of these chapters might represent a comparison of the incomparable, the role of interaction as a methodological tack proves vital in each chapter and as a point of analysis for the volume as a whole. on the one hand, chapters focused on the pre- Columbian Caribbean have taken a cue from the chapters that focused on the historic period and looked at the role of the individual in everyday transactions through the lens of agency. on the other hand, archaeologists focused on the colonial period have learned, from their colleagues' study of the more distant past, that we should not take boundaries (island or po liti cal) in establishing a scale of analysis. The study of interaction has a long history in the Caribbean. almost since its inception, Caribbean archaeology addressed interaction through issues related to the origin of the groups that inhabited the islands and described the variation in interaction of culture areas based on the similarities between different parts of the archipelago as viewed through material culture (e.g., armstrong 1990; de hostos 1923; ebanks 1984; fewkes 2009 [1907]; handler and lange 1978; howard 1950; lovén 1935; rouse 1939, 1992; see also vari ous papers in haviser 1999). While these have proved to be useful heuristics in establishing foundations of analysis in past societies and cultural frames in which people operated, they can present methodological and theoretical limitations. beyond the level of normative culture, these heuristics have limited our ability to perceive and frame behavior that falls outside of our units of analysis. We are not going to solve these issues here. rather, in this chapter, we would like to establish a different framework that can be used as a point of departure for future studies. We do this by discussing the three themes that emerged out of the collection of essays in this volume. first, we must come to grips with the ways in which our research agendas are in part informed by intellectual histories and sedimented concepts in the practice of Caribbean archaeology. second, we cannot rely on descriptive taxonomies of material culture that end with "exotic" in origin. rather, we must play with our scales of analysis so that we can also trace those materials and the social interactions they might represent. tracing interaction requires arguments of extension that enable the use of multiple scales of analysis that are sensitive to variegated forms of human interaction and how these create localities in the Caribbean. finally, rather than preset and assume boundaries defining cultural interaction, we have to look at material biographies in order to infer fields of social interaction and redraw past cartographies in the Caribbean. an approach sensitive to different scales of human interaction requires methodological and theoretical interventions. in order to move the conversation away from the traditional normative perspective, we need a series of approaches that enable us to extend in geographic and temporal space the long- Term social processes that acted at different scales of human interaction. before we expand on these three themes, we would like to begin with a framing of the intellectual traditions to the study of interaction in the Caribbean.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationIslands at the Crossroads
Subtitle of host publicationMigration, Seafaring, and Interaction in the Caribbean
PublisherThe University of Alabama Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)081735655X, 9780817356552
StatePublished - Dec 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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