- Encyclopedia of Caribbean Archaeology by Basil A. Reid and Grant Gilmore III (eds.)
Trying to monitor the trends of academic presses has become challenging, especially because shifts to online sources have cut into traditional academic publications, particularly reference manuals. Archaeologists Reid and Gilmore have edited what can only be called a ‘primer’ on archaeological research in the Caribbean as they parse the timeline into pre-historic (5000 BC to 1492) and historical (post-1492) archaeologies. The region’s myriad layers (“sea of diversity,” “complex historical landscape”) lend themselves to this inquiry because of the patterns of trans-continental pre-Columbian migration as well as the waves of European settlements infused with African slavery. Enslavement and massive fortification go hand in hand and dominate many entries. Such a convergence of Asian, African, Native American and European settlers cries out for some sort of order into the many literatures that a book of this nature entails. More than 70 contributors made this volume a reality, and about half are professionals working full-time in the Caribbean basin.
The editors’ introductory chapter, the most informative and detailed, challenges the conventional historical claim that the Carib and Arawak peoples [End Page 231] were the predominant groups based on artifact types. Rouse’s time-space systematics uses representative modes of pottery at a site, which in turn, is used to name the first site where an artifact was originally described (pp. 3-4). This conceptualization twins “culture” and “peoples” as two sides of the same coin. Accordingly, the editors adopt the ‘series’ (Archaic; Saladoid, Heucoid, and Barrancoid;Troumassoid; Taíno; Guanahatabey; and Island Carib) and sub-series approach in their historical and geographical categorization of Caribbean archaeology. A few seminal (but recent) texts were not included in the literature review under “Columbus and the Period of Initial Contact and Interaction,” and geographers well-versed in the subject will notice that oversight. Readers of this journal will notice how they works of Lydia Pulsipher have made an indelible mark in these literatures, whereas the Spanish-language or translations of Fernando Ortíz are nowhere to be found. Of the nearly 300 references in the introductory chapter, more than 98 percent are English-language publications.
The roughly 140 illustrations (maps, pen-and-ink sketches, photographs) richly enhance the text. An old-school approach, the volume includes photographs of expert archaeologists, which at times conveys academic chauvinism and a use of space that might otherwise have been devoted to topics more relevant to this reviewer. Although there are an impressive number of maps that orient the reader to the sites under review, few of them have any geographic scale. Easy-to-read chronograms and related graphics offer useful context for the roughly 150 entries, all laid out in alphabetical order. A more useful and original layout might have been geographical (i.e., Aruba, Bahamas, Curacao) and topical (i.e., bottles, plantations, conucos, etc.). Unfortunately, this alphabetical table of contents will also have to serve as a general index, because there are no subject or author indices in this work. At $100, the book will not be easy to assign as a student reader but it would serve as a handy desk reference for amateur and professional archaeologists, or in institutional libraries.
I found the writing to be at its best and most informative when the focus was thematic and topical, and not geographical. The island-by-island descriptions are cursory and, as the title of the book indicates, encyclopedic in tone. More careful editing should have remedied toponym errors such as in Singleton’s piece (e.g., Holguín and Pinar del Río misspellings). The work serves as a preliminary screening devise in which the reader can follow up on more detailed references listed at the end of each entry (listed as ‘further readings’). Accordingly, the curious traveler or the beginning archaeology student will find the tome to be of value.
The introduction to the work...