Nukak: Ethnoarchaeology of an Amazonian People


From Gustavo Politis, one of the most renowned South American archaeologists, comes the first in-depth study in English of the last "undiscovered" people of the Amazon. His work is groundbreaking and urgent, both because of encroaching guerrilla violence that makes Nukak existence perilously fragile and because his work with the Nukak represents one of the last opportunities to conduct research with hunger-gatherers using contemporary methodological and the theoretical tools. Through a rich and comprehensive ...
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From Gustavo Politis, one of the most renowned South American archaeologists, comes the first in-depth study in English of the last "undiscovered" people of the Amazon. His work is groundbreaking and urgent, both because of encroaching guerrilla violence that makes Nukak existence perilously fragile and because his work with the Nukak represents one of the last opportunities to conduct research with hunger-gatherers using contemporary methodological and the theoretical tools. Through a rich and comprehensive ethnoarchaeological portrait of material culture "in the making," this work makes methodological and conceptual advances in the interpretation of hunter-gather societies. Politis's conclusions, based on six years of original research and on comparative analysis, are integrative and contribute to the identification of the multiple factors involved in the formation of hunter-gatherer archaeological assemblages.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In Nukak, we have the most comprehensive treatise on ethnoarchaeology of an Amazonian society yet written. The work is a most important and original ethnological contribution to the Northwest Amazon. Gustavo Politis weds meticulous observations on Nukak production of artifacts, including the discards of their economic activities and their management of wild orchards among which they trek, to sophisticated ethnographic, botanical, zoological, and ecological analysis. This work transcends both ethnography and archaeology while at the same time providing the reader with a profoundly well illustrated account of a society that thrives on the delicate edge between horticulture and foraging in a wooded milieu partly created by themselves and their forebears. Politis's outstanding study is a major breakthrough in ethnoarchaeology and Amazoniana, and it will be read and studied carefully, widely, and for many years to come by scholars and students in diverse fields." —William L. Balee, Tulane University

"An endangered human society needs a very special book. Gustavo Politis provides us with one in his unforgettable portrait of a community marginalised by the pressures indigenous people face in the Global South. With an archaeologist's eye for detail we are led along the forest paths of the Nukak's world and into their lives. Sensitive and dignified, his photographs will haunt the history of the twenty-first century." —Clive Gamble, Royal Holloway University of London

"This vivid and absorbing account challenges many of our assumptions as archaeologists. Politis delves into the rich tapestry of Nukak social and symbolic life while at the same time providing a full account of technologies, subsistence and artifact discard. He uses a broad range of perspectives to produce a uniquely balanced account. This book has impact not only on ethnoarchaeology and hunter-gatherer archaeology, but also on debates in archaeological theory as a whole." —Ian Hodder, Stanford University

"Politis presents the finest treatise yet on the archaeology of a living Amazonian society. Readers can discern that the author cares deeply about the living people he works with; they come to life on the printed page as nuanced agents of landscape transformation, not as stick figures in archaeological rock art. The book is engrossing in its coverage of northwest Amazon ethnology and historical ecology. As theory, this book may be construed as the first archaeological monograph on the Amazon from the perspective of historical ecology." —CHOICE Magazine

Politis has written a book that shows that the Nukak choose to emphasize foraging for symbolic and sociocultural reasons and that horticulture and foraging are not pure types…The Nukak are the way they are because they prefer to live as such. Just as there are different ways of making a living in Amazonia, so too there are different ways to define and practice “the good life,” the imagined pragmatics of what it means to be fully human....Politis’s rich ethnography provides good data for the Nukak, who are an extremely interesting and creative group of people. Overall, I recommend this book for specialists, graduate students, and advanced undergraduates.

-Michael A. Uzendoski, Current Anthropology

This volume forms an informative and stimulating book for a broad audience with interests in archaeology, anthropology, history, material culture, indigenous peoples, Colombia, and the Amazon in general....Politis shows to a great extent that the incorporation, as Ingold and Lucas (2007) argue, of archaeology, anthropology, architecture, and plausible and indeed contributes to a remarkable detailed account and deeper understanding of life.

-Anthropology Review Database

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Gustavo Politis is a professor of archaeology at the Universidad Nacional del Centro, Buenos Aires, Argentina, is one of the most renowned South American archaeologists in the English-speaking world. He has held visiting lectureships around the world, including at Cambridge University, University of Southampton, and Stanford University. He is author and editor of many books, including Archaeology in Latin America (ed. with B. Alberti, Routledge, 1999), and has contributed to many key reference books, including Theory in Archaeology, The Blackwell Companion to Social Archaeology, Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World, and Unknown Amazon.

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Table of Contents

Preface     11
Acknowledgments     13
Illustrations     17
Tables     23
Introduction     25
The Nukak and the Maku     31
Recent History of the Nukak     36
History of Contact     38
Previous Studies     43
Environment     47
Physiography and Soils
Plant Physiognomy of the Environments in Nukak Territory
Final Considerations     53
Theory and Methods: Ethics and Techniques     55
On Ethnoarchaeology     58
Ethnoarchaeology in South America     63
Fieldwork     66
Data Collection: Methods, Techniques, and Problems     69
Ethics     72
Concluding Remarks     74
Sociopolitical Organization and Cosmology     77
Sociopolitical Organization     77
Ideology and Cosmology     84
Final Considerations     92
Shelters and Camps     99
Architecture of the Shelters     100
The Residential Camp     106
The Construction of Residential Camps     114
Other Types of Camps     119
Transitory Camps
Small Shelters Peripheral to ResidentialCamps
Small Shelters between Camps
Rectangular Constructions in Chagras, or the "House of the Tapir"
Final Remarks     127
The Use of Space and Discard Patterns     131
Residential Camp Activity Areas     132
Discard Patterns during Residential Camp Occupation     137
Abandonment Refuse     145
The Symbolic and Communicative Dimension of Waste     152
Discussion     153
Residential and Logistical Mobility: Daily Foraging Trips     161
The Multiple Dimensions of Territory     162
Residential Mobility     165
Logistical Mobility     170
Daily Foraging Trips     171
Final Considerations     179
Traditional Technology     189
The Nukak and the Adoption of Western Technology     193
Traditional Technology     196
Hunting and Fishing Weapons
Other Elements Used in Food Procurement
Plant Product Procurement and Food Preparation Utensils
Furnishings and Accessories
The Social and Ideological Dimensions of Nukak Technology     224
Final Considerations     229
Subsistence     237
Nondomesticated Plants     240
Animal Resources     256
Insect and Insect By-Product Resources      263
Fish and Aquatic Animals     267
Cultivation     275
Food from the Colonos     278
The Ideational Aspect of Food     278
The Annual Circle and the Creation of Wild Orchards     281
Discussion     285
Conclusion     288
Animal Exploitation, Processing, and Discard     291
Hunted and Taboo Animals     294
Hunting and Processing Strategies     300
White-Lipped Peccary
Bone-Discard Pattern     315
Archaeological Visibility of Butchering Patterns and Bone Discard     316
Transport     319
Conclusions     321
Final Considerations     325
The Nukak as Hunter-Gatherers     325
Territory and Mobility     329
The Use of Plants     333
Technology     335
Hunting and Food Taboos     337
The Western View of Amazonian Hunter-Gatherers     341
Final Words     343
Sample of Daily Foraging Trips     345
Patterns of Bone Representation and Surface Bone Modification Caused by Nukak Prey Acquisition   Gustavo A. MartInez     357
Material and Methods      358
Sample Analysis     362
Discussion     366
Conclusions     373
Bibliography     377
Index     407
About the Author     412
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