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Beyond the Blockade
New Currents in Cuban Archaeology
THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS
Copyright © 2010 The University Of Alabama Press
All right reserved.
Chapter One Introduction
New Currents in Cuban Archaeology
Susan Kepecs, University of Wisconsin-Madison L. Antonio Curet, The Field Museum
This volume is the result of a symposium, "Archaeology Behind the Blockade: New Research in Cuba," which we organized with our friend and colleague Gabino La Rosa (professor emeritus, Center for Anthropology, Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment, Havana; currently affiliated with the History Section of the union of Writers and Artists of Cuba [UNEAC]) for the 2006 annual meetings of the Society for American Archaeology in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The symposium was designed to bring the latest research by emerging Cuban professionals to the SAA's international, Americas-based professional audience. Seven Cuban participants, plus two researchers from the United States and one from England, were included. The Cuban Government allots few resources for foreign academic travel, and without support Cuban investigators, whose government salaries are paid in Cuban currency, would be unable to cover the U.S. Dollar-based costs of air travel and hotels in Puerto Rico. Thus we wrote proposals and obtained funds from three generous sources—the R. Christopher Reynolds Foundation, Fundación Amistad, and the Social Science Research Council—so that our Cuban colleagues could attend the meetings.
The 2006 symposium was built on previous relations we had established with Cuban archaeologists. Reagan-era visa restrictions on Cubans who work for state-run institutions, including universities, softened in the Clinton years. Both of us took advantage of that situation, traveling to Cuba to meet and work with archaeologists multiple times in the late 1990s and the first few years of the new millennium.
One result of this contact was an earlier SAA symposium, organized by historical archaeologist Shannon Lee Dawdy (University of Chicago) with Curet and La Rosa for the Society's 2002 annual meeting in Denver, Colorado. At that session, four Cuban archaeologists and two Americans presented papers on new research; Curet served as discussant. From that symposium came Dialogues in Cuban Archaeology, edited by Curet, Dawdy, and La Rosa and published in 2005 by The University of Alabama Press.
Dialogues in Cuban Archaeology is among a scant handful of recent works by Cuban archaeologists published in the united states since the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Other such publications include the English translation of La Rosa's Runaway Slave Settlements in Cuba: Resistance and Repression (2003a), the English translation by Ramón Dacal and Manuel Rivero's Art and Archaeology of Pre-Columbian Cuba (1996), an article on Archaic cave burials in Cuba by La Rosa published in Latin American Antiquity (2003b), and an article in Journal of Archaeological Science on the microanalysis of metal artifacts in "Taíno" burials (Martinón-Torres et al. 2007).
The Cubans who presented papers at the Denver symposium that became the basis for Dialogues in Cuban Archaeology also engaged in a forum at that meeting on ways to improve communications between archaeologists in Cuba and the United States. The 2006 symposium in San Juan was a response to the suggestions borne of that event, with the encouragement of University of Alabama Press (then) senior acquisitions editor Judith Knight. But the san Juan session, "Beyond the Blockade: Recent Archaeology in Cuba," did not go as planned.
We knew when we organized the symposium that visa restrictions could be an obstacle. During the 2004 presidential race, George W. Bush, courting the Cuban exile vote in Miami, repeatedly announced plans to topple the Castro government by tightening the united states' hefty plethora of isolation tactics. We hoped reason would prevail, but 2006 turned out to be the year of "baseball sí, academics no," a term coined by USA Today writer DeWayne Wickham (2006) when the Latin American Studies Association, which also held its meetings that year in San Juan, reported that 59 Cuban scholars were denied visas and were unable to attend. That same year, Cuban baseball players were first denied visas, then granted them, for the World Baseball Classic. The Cuban team advanced to the finals, but ultimately was beaten by Japan, 10–6, in the final matchup at San Diego's Petco Park.
In July 2005, with our generous funding in hand, we sent official invitations to the Cuban archaeologists, along with the money needed to cover their visa application fees. All seven Cubans began the visa process immediately, and over the next few months we received emails from Cuba letting us know that the proper applications for visas had been filed with the U.S. special interests section in Havana. Various emails followed, their tone increasingly anxious. By January 2006, it became clear that the process of obtaining the Cubans' visas had stalled.
As residents of Illinois and Wisconsin, we immediately solicited and received letters of support for each participant from U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), U.S. representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI). (at the same time, we solicited support from then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama [D-IL], but his office would not consider our request unless we submitted a great deal of additional paperwork, which we had no time to compile.) in addition, we sent letters to officials at the Cuba interests section in Washing ton, the U.S. interests section in Havana, the U.S. State Department Cuba Desk, and the deputy assistant secretary of state for Western hemisphere affairs. We included the symposium prospectus as clear evidence that this was an academic affair, not a political one. We asked the recipients of these letters to consider the nature of our project and to help facilitate the visa applications made by our Cuban colleagues. Further, Luly Duke, director of Fundación Amistad, took the proactive step of making a personal phone call to the Cuban Interests Section to request that the visas be granted.
To make a long story short, the State Department officials took their time. We received no further notification on the visa process until April 12 (two weeks before the symposium), when we learned that all of the Cubans' visa applications had been denied. On April 14, David Lindsey, government affairs manager for the SAA, sent a letter in the name of SAA President Kenneth Ames to Maura Harty at the state department, asking for reconsideration. Several days later, at our suggestion, Dr. Ames also sent a letter to U.S. Representative Jeff flake (R-AZ), who was instrumental in opening trade channels with Cuba during the bush administration.
Despite these last-minute efforts there was no reconsideration, and the Cubans did not attend the meetings. In san Juan, we asked the SAA Committee on the Americas to recommend that SAA president Kenneth Ames send letters of protest to the State Department, noting the Society's disappointment over the denial of visas to Cuban scholars, and demanding a change in U.S. foreign policy to allow free academic exchange between Cuba and the United States. Our recommendation carried, and President AMES sent the requested letter.
Also in San Juan, we went ahead with the symposium. The Cuban participants had sent us electronic versions of their papers, which were read in the symposium by several Puerto Rican colleagues. In addition, the three non-Cuban participants we invited (who were not covered in any way by the grants we received) presented their papers.
The symposium was dedicated to Betty Meggers, of the Smithsonian institution, for challenging the blockade through persistent contact with her Cuban colleagues for over three decades. Dr. Meggers attended, and, on behalf of the absent Cuban archaeologists, we presented her with a plaque in recognition of her efforts to keep the door cracked open. We were pleased to report to our funders that the symposium, though lacking the much-anticipated presence of the Cuban scholars, was well attended.
This volume brings the results of the san Juan symposium to a much broader professional audience. We want to stress its importance, because we believe that communication between colleagues and the sharing of ideas and research results are critical to the advancement of all disciplines. The absence of regular avenues for scholarly exchange can slow the processes of discovery, theory-building, testing, and critique that are important to the mature development of any scientific field.
Cuban and U.S. archaeologists have not always been isolated from each other, of course. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, both communities shared a research paradigm—the minimally scientific pursuit of "culture history" common throughout the Americas—and cited each other's work (see Deagan, this volume). But over the course of our 40-year separation new methods, theories, and findings have developed in both countries. The communication gap has severely limited the great potential benefits of theoretical and methodological discourse. Cuban archaeologists could have profited from the U.S. debate over new archaeology and the development of cultural resource management archaeology of the 1960s and 1970s (Flannery 1973; Plog et al. 1978; Schiffer 1976). Further, U.S. isolationist policies kept Cuban archaeologists from participating in the raging theoretical debates over poststructuralism in the 1980s and 1990s.
In Turn, U.S. archaeologists missed out on the research frameworks developing in Cuba, including the archaeological applications of Marxist theory in post-revolutionary Cuba that supplanted the anemic practice of culture history, and transculturation studies, which examine the two-way processes of prolonged cultural contact (Ortíz 1943; Tabío and Rey 1966). Cuban archaeologists, despite the material hardships of the embargo, also forged brilliant methodological advances in urban historical archaeology (e.g., Domínguez 1995, 1998) and the archaeology of slave resistance (e.g., La Rosa 1988, and this volume). Moreover, U.S. researchers (and many of our counterparts in other areas of Latin America) are largely unaware of major empirical research by Cuban archaeologists. Important case studies on the whole range of Cuban prehispanic archaeology, from archaic settlement to late-prehispanic "Taíno" sites offer comparative information that is crucial, in the long run, for the interpretation of similar data elsewhere in the Americas.
The intellectual wall that is part and parcel of the United States' ill-conceived, anachronistic Cuba policy has led not only to a near absence of scholarly exchange, but also to misunderstandings about the conditions underlying this silence. For example, in his critique of archaeology in post-1959 Cuba, Dave Davis (1996) implies that the lack of exchange among Cubans and U.S. researchers is voluntary. yet archaeologists who have traveled to Cuba in recent years (ourselves included) have found no support for this assumption. Cuban archaeologists are eager, even hungry, for intellectual exchange and information on the state of the field in the United States. The perception that Cuba's isolation is self-imposed rather than a result of the U.S. blockade is an unfortunate relic of Cold War rhetoric. The chapters in this book are evidence that Cuban archaeologists very much want to share their research with their U.S. counterparts.
Historical Context for This Volume
Most of the chapters in this book provide historical context for the research advances contained therein, so we will not outline the full scope of previous Cuban archaeology here. Nevertheless, the blockade on knowledge produced in Cuba leaves us impoverished. In the vast University of Wisconsin-Madison library system, for example, only seven books on the subject, including Dialogues in Cuban Archaeology (Curet et al., eds., 2005) are available. In an effort to contextualize this volume, we offer a very brief look at the historical trajectory of Cuban archaeology.
In this book, both prehispanic and historical archaeology are well represented. Since the two branches of the Cuban archaeological tree have distinct histories, we discuss each in turn.
Early twentieth-century archaeology, entrenched as it was in the particularist, culture-historical paradigm of the times, was carried out in Cuba by a number of investigators on both sides of the Florida Straits, including U.S. Investigators mark Harrington of the museum of the American Indian (1921), Irving Rouse of Yale University (1942, 1992), and a host of Cuban pioneers (i.e., Herrera 1946, 1964; Pichardo 1934). The 1959 revolution put a stop to archaeological research in Cuba for several years, and when the field opened up again the U.S. blockade had put an end to communications among scholars from the two nations.
In 1962 the Cuban government founded the Cuban academy of sciences, with the goal of building the material, technological, and cultural basis of the new socialist state (Tabío and Rey 1966:7–10). Under academy auspices, archaeology was defined as a fundamentally historical science, "with the primary goal of studying the economic conditions, the social forces of production and the applications of technology in the transformation of the early stages of societies." Inherent in this approach (see Tabío and Rey 1966:9, 42) was the directive to marshal empirical evidence toward Engels's nineteenth-century vision of primitive communism laid out in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884).
As in Cuba, archaeology throughout both the rest of the "developing world" and much of Europe is framed as a historical science as opposed to a generalizing one (i.e., the "new archaeology" of the United States). By casting archaeology as an arm of history, Latin American and African archaeologists affirm their countries' autonomous, independent identities in the face of U.S. global hegemony (Schmidt and Patterson 1995). Ethnohistory is a crucial component in the historical pursuit of the past, and two decades before postprocessual critical theory was integrated into anthropology in the United States, Tabío and Rey (1966:9) advised Cuban archaeologists to examine critically the feudal economic agenda of the Spanish chroniclers.
Two decades after Tabío and Rey laid out the Academy of Sciences archaeological program, José Guarch (1987) provided updated, more detailed directions for Marxist studies in what Guarch called archaeohistory. The goals reprise Tabío and Rey's—the aims of archaeohistory are to provide material information on the modes and relations of production in Cuba's archaic and agrarian-ceramic traditions. Guarch (1987:22) called for direct and indirect (inferential) analyses, but most of what he added to archaeological practice falls in the realm of empirical information—expanded, systematic data collection, with the incorporation of relevant chemical, physical, botanical, and statistical analyses, mostly learned from soviet archaeologists in the interim between the publication of his book and Tabío and Rey's.
Yet as Dave Davis (1996:177–179) points out in his synopsis of archaeology in revolutionary Cuba, at least until the fall of the soviet union Cuban archaeology was designed not to test and refine dialectical theory, but rather, to exemplify it. Explorations of political and economic complexity were cut short by adherence to Engels's obsolete notion of primitive communism (see Bloch 2004).
Thus U.S. investigators, including Rouse (1992:19), can discuss social complexity—that is, the "complex chiefdoms" of the "Classic Taínos"—but in Cuban archaeology, studies of political or economic complexity have been, until very recently, off limits. Yet in practice, unquestioning adherence to Engels's model was so riddled with contradictions that the theory ended up being more implicit than applied. Thus Cuban archaeology, as Davis (1996) notes, has been largely descriptive, empirical, and culture-historical.
Change since the fall of the Soviet Union has come slowly. In the Canadian peer-reviewed online journal Kacike, Cuban archaeologist Jorge Ulloa (2002) offers an assessment very similar to Davis's. After the revolution, according to Ulloa, Cuban archaeology experienced a certain theoretical stagnation, lacking the creative contributions of archaeology in other parts of the Caribbean, Latin America, or North America. In Cuba, archaeology remained a mix of old (particularist, culture-historical) concepts, aided by new methods of analysis and excavation techniques.
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