Crossing the Borders: New Methods and Techniques in the Study of Archaeological Materials from the Caribbean.
Over the last two decades, the application of the natural and physical sciences in archaeology, commonly referred to as archaeometry or archaeological science, has gradually been adopted as a part of the Caribbean archaeologist's tool kit for wresting technological, cultural, and historical information from archaeological sites and collections. In 2006, the leading archaeometric specialists working with Caribbean sites and artifacts gathered at the Society for American Archaeology conference in Puerto Rico for a symposium showcasing recent approaches. The symposium ultimately evolved into the anthology under review here.
Crossing the Borders begins with an introduction by the co-editors to the study of archaeological materials, including a useful historical overview of Caribbean archaeology. This is followed by fourteen case studies prepared by experts from both sides of the Atlantic, and an epilogue by Taino specialist William Keegan. Obviously intended for other archaeologists, the case studies do an excellent job of demonstrating the fundamental role that archaeometry now plays in Caribbean archaeology and illustrate the diversity of experience and backgrounds of the researchers. Keegan's epilogue, meanwhile, respectfully tenders an acknowledgement to the pioneering archaeometric studies that laid the groundwork over the last thirty years for the current generation of scholars. Keegan also does well to remind readers that showcasing methodological or technological sophistication is never enough, and that asking good questions is still the most important part of any archaeological investigation.
The first three case studies (Chapters 2-4) feature techniques for determining the origins of ceramics, metals, and lithic artifacts. The three editors combine conventional archaeological analysis, geochemical analysis, and ethnoarchaeological research to determine the provenance of pottery fragments recovered on Saba. Their evidence indicates that most of the pottery was manufactured from local clays; however, as much as one third was manufactured from non-local sources. Drawing on their ethnoarchaeological evidence, they argue that the clay must have been part of the exchange network of Amerindians. Jago Cooper, Marcos Martinon-Torres, and Roberto Valcarcel Rojas then trace the origin, composition, and manufacture of metal objects from a Taino cemetery in Cuba; theirs is the only case study in the volume that focuses on the poorly understood contact period. They determine that the metal objects are of European origin and suggest new insights into indigenous trade systems, as well as the influence of European colonizers on Taino customs and values. In the final provenance study, Sebastiaan Knippenburg and Johannes Zijlstra review the metholodogy for characterizing the chemical composition of flint and chert artifacts as a productive technique for determining where Amerindians sourced raw materials for stone tools.
The next three chapters examine Amerindian manufacturing processes. In Chapter 5, Charlene Dixon Hutcheson profiles the use of dental molds of basket-impressed ceramics from the Bahamas for studying weaving techniques in the absence of the original artifacts. Christy de Mille, Tamara Varney, and Michael Turney investigate the drilling technology of the Saladoid lapidary industries on Antigua using casts of bead bore holes and scanning electron microscopy. And Benoit Berard presents a research plan for examining stone tool manufacture by comparing Huecan and Cedrosan Saladoid assemblages, aimed at clarifying distinctions between the two cultural traditions.
The microscopic analysis of tools, and the residues adhering to cutting surfaces is the focus of Chapters 8-12. Van Gijn, Yvonne Lammers-Keijsers, and Iris Briels employ use-wear analysis of ceramics, stones, shells, and coral to reconstruct activities. Building on these results, Harold J. Kelly and Van Gijn compare use-wear on coral artifacts to replicate tools. Combining use-wear analysis, plant phytolith, and starch residue analysis, Channah Nieuwenhuis assesses the function of specific stone tools and pottery in plant processing in Saba. Also focusing on plant remains, Jaime Pagan Jimenez and Jose Oliver compare starch residues on stone tools between various Puerto Rican sites to suggest different systems of agricultural production on the island. Starch residues are also examined on ceramic griddles from Cuba by Roberto Rodriguez and Pagan Jimenez in their evaluation of the notion that griddles were used solely for the production of cassava bread.
The last three chapters feature paleobotanical and paleo-osteological research. Lee Newsom reviews the newest methods and techniques in the study of plant remains. Alfredo Coppa and a number of collaborators present dental evidence for two separate migratory waves in the circum-Caribbean. Finally, Mathijs Booden et al. use strontium isotopes from teeth and bone to trace the origin of the population at the Toumassoid site of Anse a la Gourde in Guadeloupe.
To echo Keegan (p. 231), Crossing the Borders ushers Caribbean archaeology into a new phase. Excavation is no longer an end in itself, and finds lists no longer constitute the totality of an archaeologist's analytical capability. With the aim of becoming both methodologically and theoretically more sophisticated, the archaeometric methods profiled in this volume represent new and innovative ways to address a wider range of questions than was previously possible. Well-written and illustrated, the book is a showcase of some of the most interesting and thoughtful archaeological research underway in the Caribbean.
Department of Anthropology
College of William and Mary
Williamsburg VA 23185-8795, U.S.A.
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|Publication:||New West Indian Guide|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2011|
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