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Rethinking Puerto Rican Precolonial History

Written by Reniel Rodriguez Ramos

Publication Year: 2010

The history of Puerto Rico has usually been envisioned as a sequence of colonizations-various indigenous peoples from Archaic through Taíno were successively invaded, assimilated, or eliminated, followed by the Spanish entrada, which was then modified by African traditions and, since 1898, by the United States. The truth is more complex, but in many ways Puerto Rico remains one of the last colonies in the world. This volume focuses on the successive indigenous cultures of Puerto Rico prior to 1493.
Traditional studies of the cultures of indigenous peoples of the Caribbean have centered on ceramic studies, based on the archaeological model developed by Irving Rouse which has guided Caribbean archaeology for decades. Rodríguez Ramos departs from this methodology by implementing lithics as the primary unit for tracing the origins and developments of the indigenous peoples of Puerto Rico. Analyzing the technological styles involved in the production of stone artifacts in the island through time, as well as the evaluation of an inventory of more than 500 radiocarbon dates recovered since Rouse's model emerged, the author presents a truly innovative study revealing alternative perspectives on Puerto Rico's pre-Columbian culture-historical sequence. By applying a multiscalar design, he not only not only provides an analysis of the plural ways in which the precolonial peoples of the island interacted and negotiated their identities but also shows how the cultural landscapes of Puerto Rico, the Antilles, and the Greater Caribbean shaped and were shaped by mutually constituting processes through time.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. v

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xiii

The archaeology of Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean has long been dominated by the archaeological model proposed by the late Irving Rouse. Although the contributions of this pioneering archaeologist for the development of culture-historical systematics have been many, the time has come for us to unthink many of the assumptions that are made in his models in order to develop a fresh perspective on the precolonial histories of the original inhabitants of the insular Caribbean...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-11

Since its onset, archaeology has had a close relationship with political and cultural colonialism. The many shades of colonialism not only include the political and economic straightjacketing of the occupied territories but in many cases also involve the invention of the histories of the colonized by the colonizer (Fannon 1988; McNiven and Russell 2005). As noted elsewhere (e.g., see chapters in Liebman and Rizvi 2008), archaeology has played an important role in this endeavor, which in many cases has led to the alienation of peoples from the construction of their own histories...

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2. Culture History: Toward a Revamped Perspective

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pp. 12-26

Keegan and Rodríguez Ramos (2004) have recently indicated that there is a theoretical crisis in Antillean archaeology. We argued that none of the models in existence, particularly Rouse’s time-culture systematics and the Arqueología Social’s modos de vida approach, are appropriate for addressing the culturally and socially plural precolonial landscape of the insular Caribbean since both are essentialist in nature...

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3. The Method, the Sample, the Contexts

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pp. 27-49

As previously noted, a major objective of this work is to develop a data set that can be used to evaluate Rouse’s chrono-cultural model for Puerto Rico as well as to revisit some of the assumptions embedded in such a framework regarding the lifeways and dynamics of interaction of the precolonial peoples of the island. This will be accomplished primarily by analyzing the ways in which objective pieces were shaped or reduced through the employment of different manufacturing techniques, which are reflected in the negative signatures imprinted on the produced materials and their by-products...

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4. Discovery of Puerto Rico and the Lifeways of Its Earliest Inhabitants

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pp. 50-87

Around 5000 b.c., the inhabitants of some of the coastal areas of the Americas that faced the Caribbean Sea embarked on the first long-distance maritime movements registered in this hemisphere. These voyages were directed to a group of islands whose territories marked the northern boundary of the Caribbeanscape, a fluid space that has united people from such continental regions with those of the Antillean archipelago for more than 7,000 years...

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5. Coming, Going, and Interacting: An Alternative Perspective on the “La Hueca Problem”

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pp. 88-144

After around 3,500 years of Pre-A rawak occupations and interactions in Puerto Rico, other groups of people began to make their entrance into the Antilles. It is generally considered, on the basis of Rouse’s (1992) model, that those groups migrated from a single ancestral area that has been traced to the mouth of the O rinoco. These migrants, grouped by Rouse (1992) within the Cedrosan Saladoid subseries, moved from that area into the Lesser Antilles, eventually reaching Puerto Rico around 400 b.c...

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6. Horizontal Diversification in Puerto Rico: The Forging of New Identities

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pp. 145-186

It has often been assumed, on the basis of Rouse’s (1992) model, that the most pivotal event in the development of what is commonly known as the “Taíno” is marked by the rise of the Ostionoid series in Puerto Rico around a.d. 600. The beginning of this series is represented by the divergence of the Cuevas style of the Cedrosan Saladoid subseries into the Monserrate style of the Elenan Ostionoid subseries in the eastern part of the island and the Pure Ostiones style of the Ostionan Ostionoid subseries in the west...

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7. The Intensification of Regional Political Integration

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pp. 187-209

As was evident in the previous chapter, the political landscape of the island after a.d. 500 was characterized by social and cultural plurality rather than homogeneity. New identities emerged at the local and regional levels, which resulted from the myriad of intersocietal engagements that were taking place during this time. These processes intensified after a.d. 1000, a period characterized by higher degrees of political integration on the island. This chapter will address the articulation of Puerto Rico’s late precolonial landscape...

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8. Putting It All Together

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pp. 210-222

Throughout this book, I have provided an alternative perspective on the precolonial landscape of Puerto Rico at different points in time employing as primary lines of evidence the study of the technological styles used in lithic production and the radiocarbon database from the island that I developed. By integrating these two sources of evidence and others as well, I have aimed to elicit the complex nature of the social and cultural landscape of the island throughout our precolonial history...

References Cited

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pp. 223-264


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pp. 265-267

E-ISBN-13: 9780817383275
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817356095

Page Count: 267
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Indians of the West Indies -- Antiquities.
  • Puerto Rico -- Antiquities.
  • West Indies -- Antiquities.
  • Archaeology and history -- Puerto Rico.
  • Indians of the West Indies -- Puerto Rico -- Antiquities.
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