Dialogues in Cuban Archaeology

By Espenshade, Christopher T. | Southeastern Archaeology, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Dialogues in Cuban Archaeology


Espenshade, Christopher T., Southeastern Archaeology


Dialogues in Cuban Archaeology. L. ANTONIO CURET, SHANNON LEE DAWDY, and GABINO LA ROSA CORZO (eds.). University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2005. xvi + 241 pp., 46 figs., 5 tables, references, index. $26.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8173-5187-6.

Reviewed by Christopher T. Espenshade

In 2004, the U.S. Department of Treasury changed its regulations regarding the publication of works by researchers in embargoed countries such as Iran and Cuba. For Caribbean archaeologists, this was a welcome development in that allowed the participation of Cuban archaeologists in the edited volume, Dialogues in Cuban Archaeology. The use of the word "dialogue" in the title is intentional. The symposium that was the basis for this volume was convened with the goal (p. 1) "to provide a setting for Cuban and American archaeologists to engage in a dialogue that could help thaw the state of communication between scholars from both countries, which in many ways has remained frozen in the political climate of the early 1960s."

The volume is not intended to be a complete overview of the history and current state of Cuban archaeology, nor is it meant to be an overt political condemnation. Instead, the contributors provide an interesting sampling of what many American archaeologists have been missing. The volume begins with an introduction by Shannon Dawdy, Antonio Curet, and Gabino La Rosa Corzo. Part 1 then presents four chapters documenting the history of archaeological research in Cuba. Part 2 offers five examples of substantive archaeological research on the island. Samuel Wilson offers the volume's the afterword.

Dawdy, Curet, and La Rosa Corzo open the volume with a most enlightening discussion, from three perspectives, about the history and potential of Cuban archaeology. The authors make the points that the archaeology of Cuba is of direct relevance to archaeologists of the United States, that Cuban archaeology is healthy and thriving despite the political realities, and that Cuban and American archaeologists (unlike their respective governments) are eager to work with one another. Dawdy et al. also underline that in certain areas, for example, the archaeology of maroons (runaway slaves) or the coupling of urban archaeology and historic preservation, Cuban archaeologists have been conducting pioneering work.

Daul and Waiters detail the three stages of Cuban archaeology: local antiquarianism (1841-98), Cuban and North American archaeologists (1898-1959), and post-North American (1959-2000). Their review includes the development of both theory and preservation law, and their discussion provides an interesting parallel to Section 106 and the National Historic Preservation Act.

Berman, Febles, and Gnivecki offer a slightly different perspective on the history of research. Focusing more on curricula, institutions, and publications, they trace the maturation of Cuban archaeology. Berman et al. note that national pride has played a key role in the development of archaeology and history. One result is that public archaeology is well developed in Cuba, and (p. 54) "today's elementary schoolchild knows more about the prehistory of Cuba than the majority of educated people did before 1959."

Domínguez discusses historical archaeology on the island. As an adjunct to projects restoring or preserving historical buildings, historical archaeology gained an importance in Cuba well before the rest of the world. Legislatively and philosophically, Cuban archaeologists were leaders in the development of historical archaeology, but as Domínguez rightfully notes, major American and European discussions of the development of the discipline overlook or downplay Cuban efforts.

Linville provides an overview of the history of research and the nature of resources in the realm of Cuban rock art. More than 130 rock art sites have been recorded in Cuba, and a strong preservation and analysis ethos has developed. In a familiar refrain, many of these data are not included in pan-Caribbean syntheses and comparisons. …

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