Caribbean Archaeology and Material Culture

By Rampersad, Sabrina R.; Robertson, James C. | Caribbean Quarterly, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Caribbean Archaeology and Material Culture


Rampersad, Sabrina R., Robertson, James C., Caribbean Quarterly


Introduction

This special issue of Caribbean Quarterly is the first to be devoted to archaeology. It is intended to demonstrate both the extensive opportunities for archaeological work across the Caribbean as well as some of the variety of approaches available to tackle questions concerning the region's archaeology. We hope that archaeologists - or would-be archaeologists - will be encouraged by the interesting work being undertaken by their colleagues in neighbouring territories, while non-archaeologists will gain some idea why the region's archaeologists extol the value of their discipline's insights as contributions to wider debates.

These papers originated from a one-day symposium hosted by the Archaeological Society of Jamaica (ASJ) in April 2008, which encouraged submissions dealing with topics from the wider Caribbean. The contributions to this issue were recruited by the editors not only for their wide range of scholarly interests, but also to show the ASJ's commitment to embracing and promoting varied archaeological pursuits. The combined offerings present prehistoric and historic contexts where diverse archaeological approaches are applied. These include: field survey and excavation (De Waal and Rampersad), pre-Columbian manufacturing techniques and experimental archaeology (Frankson), anthropological archaeology and ethnography (White), scientific analysis of material culture (Hauser), the use of archival sources to reconstruct historic space (Robertson), historical and feminist analyses of material culture (Josephs), and comparative heritage management and tourism (Francis-Lindsay). The editors believe that this collection's strength lies in its thematic diversity, which should allow it to serve both as an educational tool, and to offer models for current and future developments in Caribbean archaeology. The individual papers not only showcase multiple approaches within the discipline, but together they demonstrate the wider range of opportunities for cross-disciplinary insights while exploring "the quirky borderlands between overlapping disciplines and data sets" (Mayne, 2008, 104).

The 2008 conference was the sixth Symposium that the ASJ has organized. Like its predecessors, it attracted scholars from within Jamaica and the Caribbean, and beyond, this time as far away as the United States and Japan. The role of the ASJ in assembling such a broad representation of scholars and archaeological topics is characteristic of the Society's tradition of encouraging comparative and cross-disciplinary insights. The days when a leading British archaeologist would write that "Jamaican archaeology is still very little known, probably for lack of properly controlled excavations" are, fortunately, long past (Crawford, 1955, 37; also, Robertson, 2007). Modem Jamaica is adopting pan-Caribbean and global outlooks with regard to its archaeology and heritage management schemes. These approaches are reinforced by the activities of local organisations like the ASJ, which began in 1965 as the 'Archaeological Club of Jamaica,' and was reorganized as the Archaeological Society of Jamaica in 1970. Interdisciplinarity has always been central in this small society, all the more so when both the Club and the Society owed much of their early energy not to an archaeologist, but to a professional geologist, Dr. James Lee (1924-2006), who was himself a keen avocational archaeologist. From the start, the Society encouraged a range of local field projects and liaisons with international scholars (Lee, 1 978). …

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