The People Who Discovered Columbus: The Prehistory of the Bahamas

The People Who Discovered Columbus: The Prehistory of the Bahamas

The People Who Discovered Columbus: The Prehistory of the Bahamas

The People Who Discovered Columbus: The Prehistory of the Bahamas


For the Lucayan Tainos of the Caribbean, the year 1492 marked the beginning of the end: the first people contacted by Christopher Columbus were the first extinguished. Within thirty years, a population of perhaps 80,000 had declined to, at most, a few refugees. Clearing new ground in the study of prehistoric societies, William Keegan argues that a different perspective on the past provides an accurate portrait of a culture that became extinct almost 500 years ago. Keegan's terms his approach paleoethnography, developing a portrait of the past by linking archaeological field data and historical documents. The result, the first overview of the prehistory of the Bahamas, explains how and why the Bahamas were colonized by the Tainos almost 1,400 years ago. The portrait includes characteristics of the islands themselves, descriptions of how the Lucayan made their settlements, what they ate, how they organized in social groups, and how their population spread throughout the archipelago. Keegan reconstructs Columbus's voyage through the West Indies, raising questions about the explorer's motivations and presenting a controversial theory about where, exactly, Columbus landed. Offering new perspectives on Caribbean prehistory to both scholars and general readers, the book ends with the Spaniards' arrival and the Lucayans' demise.


Are you still doing that archaeology stuff?"

That question started a phone call from Richard Nordstrom. It was the fall of 1977, and Rich and I were both at the University of Connecticut. He was completing his master's degree in marine biology (he is now president of orca Industries) and I my ba in anthropology. We shared a mutual interest in scuba diving and had worked together in a variety of capacities. Prior to that phone call we had last spoken six months earlier when I was president of the uconn scuba Club and he was our diving instructor.

During those six months Rich had become involved in the fledgling Foundation for the Protection of Reefs and Islands from Degradation and Exploitation (PRIDE) on Pine Cay in the Turks and Caicos Islands. in those days pride was more dream than reality, the offspring of Chuck Hesse and Kathy Orr. It was founded as a not-for-profit scientific and educational foundation that would actively work to educate the local and tourist publics and to protect and preserve the natural resources of the islands. pride has been successful beyond all but Chuck's expectations.

Pride had arranged to offer a summer field school in conjunction with the uconn School of Education. Dr. Thomas Goodkind was by then well known for his field schools in which present and prospective teachers were immersed in a "foreign" lifeway (although one of his field schools was held in the western United States, the setting was foreign to his typical student). the purpose was to bring new meaning to their role as teachers by bringing new meaning to their own educational milieu.

Rich had called because they wanted an archaeologist as one of the instructors for the course entitled "Field Study in Caribbean Island Environments," which was to be held on Pine Cay in July 1978. There was an archaeologist working on Middle Caicos at the time, but he was planning . . .

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