The Tutu Archaeological Village Site: A Case Study in Human Adaptation

By Elizabeth Righter | Go to book overview

Introduction

Elizabeth Righter

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Tutu Archaeological Village site was initially occupied shortly after the beginning of the Christian era and abandoned sometime around the time of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World. Two major periods of site occupation took place: one between cal. AD 65 and cal. AD 900 and the other between cal. AD 1150 and AD 1500. Although earlier dates were obtained they could not be associated confidently with other evidence of site occupation. On the later end of the time scale 2-sigma date ranges extend to cal. AD 1635, but the lack of fifteenth-century European trade goods in any of the recovered material suggests that either the inhabitants of the Tutu site were not present at the time of European contact or they abandoned the site very shortly thereafter.

The Tutu site is the first Ceramic Ages prehistoric settlement in the Virgin Islands to be investigated in a holistic manner. The challenge of documenting and interpreting the complex interplay between the natural environment and human subsistence, culture, sociopolitical organization, and spiritualism underlies the theoretical and methodological approach to the Tutu site. In order to expose and record the full range of archaeological evidence, both midden and non-midden areas were investigated and interpreted. In consultation with leading experts in a number of related fields, charcoal and other samples were carefully excavated from stratified midden deposits and subjected to state-of-the art analyses. This approach permitted interpretation of the relationship of site elements, in chronologically controlled contexts. Analysis of the paleopathology of human remains from the site is one of the most extensive and comprehensive for the Caribbean islands; and these studies combined with results of paleobotanical, faunal, trace element, stable isotope and other analyses provide significant information pertaining to health and diet as well as to patterns of subsistence and natural resource exploitation. Large expanses of non-midden areas were exposed to reveal patterns of post holes, structures and burials in relationship to each other, and to a central open area or plaza, and other features.

The results of the project demonstrate the wealth of information contained in both midden and non-midden areas of a settlement, challenge our survey methodologies and suggest increased use of remote sensing techniques. The results also challenge existing federal historic preservation legislation which limits consideration of archaeological resources to impact zones. The use of interdisciplinary analysis, so often set aside in the Virgin Islands for lack of funds, also set a precedent for future research, re-emphasizing the complex nature of prehistoric settlement sites and the interrelated nature of the archaeological data that they contain.

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