The arguments presented in this book were essentially written in a rather short, intense period of just under five months, from early November 2006 to early March 2007. Yet the ideas and insights took much longer to gestate. My interest in this topic began in the early 1970s as a teenager, with my curiosity in trying to understand the potential meanings that could be elicited from rock art and iconography, most particularly the petroglyphs that so frequently are found engraved in stonedemarcated plazas or precincts (bateyes), but are also painted or carved in caves and on rock boulders found in rivers and dotted throughout the land. From these rather naïve initial efforts, my thinking eventually matured and led to an in-depth analysis of the iconography of the civic-ceremonial center of Caguana, Puerto Rico (Oliver 1980, 1992, 1998, 2005). It was while writing the Caguana papers and the book in the 1980s and '90s that I became increasingly concerned not so much with the objets d'art per se, but with the relationships that they may have had with the native peoples who created and used them. In these papers and the 1998 book, I had taken an overtly structuralist and linguistic approach, influenced by an
R. Tom Zuidema and Donald W. Lathrap brand of structuralism and linguistics, ultimately all of it deriving inspiration from Claude Lévi-Strauss's ouvre. Linguistic theory, nurtured by Professor Rudolph Troike during my graduate school years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was central to my analysis of the iconography of Caguana. My purpose, then, was principally to provide the ritual and ceremonial scenarios where humans interacted with and “decoded” the icons in order to elicit their potential meanings and functions.
Because my book on Caguana's iconography was written in Spanish, many Anglo phones (for better or worse, it is the international language of academia) were unable to read it. In 2003 Peter Siegel offered me an opportunity to write a chapter on Caguana's iconography in English. It appeared in his edited book An- cient Borinquen: Archaeology and Ethnohistory of Native Puerto Rico, published by The University of Alabama Press in 2005 (Oliver 2005:230–284). Reworking and synthesizing the original 1998 book into an article-length essay rekindled my fascination with the nature of the relationship of the cemí icons and the ancient natives. Although it was a synthesis that still followed the structural approach of the 1998 book, I also began to pay more attention to the processes that rendered these icons into active agents rather than passive entities—that is, cemí petroglyphs as . . .