Rethinking Puerto Rican Precolonial History [NOOK Book]


The history of Puerto Rico has usually been envisioned as a sequence of colonizations-various indigenous peoples from Archaic through Ta?no were successively invaded, assimilated, or eliminated, followed by the Spanish entrada, which was then modified by African traditions and, since 1898, by the United States. The truth is more complex, but in many ways Puerto Rico remains one of the last colonies in the world. This volume focuses on the successive indigenous cultures of Puerto Rico prior to 1493.   ...
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Rethinking Puerto Rican Precolonial History

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The history of Puerto Rico has usually been envisioned as a sequence of colonizations-various indigenous peoples from Archaic through Taíno were successively invaded, assimilated, or eliminated, followed by the Spanish entrada, which was then modified by African traditions and, since 1898, by the United States. The truth is more complex, but in many ways Puerto Rico remains one of the last colonies in the world. This volume focuses on the successive indigenous cultures of Puerto Rico prior to 1493.   Traditional studies of the cultures of indigenous peoples of the Caribbean have centered on ceramic studies, based on the archaeological model developed by Irving Rouse which has guided Caribbean archaeology for decades. Rodríguez Ramos departs from this methodology by implementing lithics as the primary unit for tracing the origins and developments of the indigenous peoples of Puerto Rico. Analyzing the technological styles involved in the production of stone artifacts in the island through time, as well as the evaluation of an inventory of more than 500 radiocarbon dates recovered since Rouse's model emerged, the author presents a truly innovative study revealing alternative perspectives on Puerto Rico's pre-Columbian culture-historical sequence. By applying a multiscalar design, he not only not only provides an analysis of the plural ways in which the precolonial peoples of the island interacted and negotiated their identities but also shows how the cultural landscapes of Puerto Rico, the Antilles, and the Greater Caribbean shaped and were shaped by mutually constituting processes through time.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"I predict this work will become a classic in due time, and a book that will have to be quoted for a long, long time to come."--Jose Oliver, Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London

“These types of critiques and revisions are what makes science move forward. Rodriguez Ramos' comprehensive review and analysis of the data will definitely shake our perceptions or Caribbean archaeology."--L. Antonio Curet, Field Museum

"This book revolutionizes the cultural geography of the precolonial Caribbean, and is the latest and most forceful proponent of a paradigm shift [that] has seen Caribbean scholars break out of their traditional culture area and move away from pottery-based histories of migration. . . . This is an engagingly written book, and well-timed with respect to the accumulation of new evidence. It is also an inspiring contribution whose aim to 'decolonize' Puerto Rican and Caribbean archaeology will provoke new research questions and lines of hypothesis-testing."--Antiquity

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817383275
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 7/19/2010
  • Series: Caribbean Archaeology and Ethnohistory
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 267
  • File size: 6 MB

Meet the Author

Reniel Rodríguez Ramos, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Puerto Rico, Utuado and Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Faculty of Archaeology of the University of Leiden.
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Read an Excerpt

Rethinking Puerto Rican Precolonial History

By Reniel Rodríguez Ramos


Copyright © 2010 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-5609-5

Chapter One


Since its onset, archaeology has had a close relationship with political and cultural colonialism. The many shades of colonialism not only include the political and economic straightjacketing of the occupied territories but in many cases also involve the invention of the histories of the colonized by the colonizer (Fannon 1988; McNiven and Russell 2005). As noted elsewhere (e.g., see chapters in Liebman and Rizvi 2008), archaeology has played an important role in this endeavor, which in many cases has led to the alienation of peoples from the construction of their own histories. Although some central archaeologists have made concerted efforts to reflect and step away from this tendency, in many cases archaeology has still not been able to break loose from the colonialist template upon which it was originally founded.

This situation and its implications for the construction of precolonial histories are even more evident in scenarios in which a colonial status still exists, such as in the case of Puerto Rico. Although in legal terms Puerto Rico is a "commonwealth," a political formula that allowed the island to be excluded in the mid-twentieth century from the United Nations list of colonies, it is quite evident that in pragmatic terms the island continued, and still continues, to be a colony of the United States. This colonial situation has had drastic effects on the ways that archaeology has been instituted in Puerto Rico, both pragmatically and paradigmatically, which as an end result has led to an arrest of the rise of an "indigenous archaeology" on the island (see López Sotomayor 1978 and Pagán Jiménez and Rodríguez Ramos 2008 for detailed discussions on this issue). The many vectors of coloniality reflected in the study of our precolonial past emanate not only from the archaeological models used to organize our pre-Columbian stratigraphy but also from the structuration (institutional, methodological, and theoretical) of archaeological practice on the island (Gutiérrez Ortiz 1998; Pagán Jiménez 2000). And this is not only a matter of imposition; although most of us know better, we are actively (and comfortably) engaged in reproducing these colonialist tropes in the ways we perform archaeology in Puerto Rico today (Figure 1.1).

In order to begin to emancipate ourselves from that tendency, this book seeks to critically evaluate the main archaeological model consumed on the island, as proposed by the late Irving Rouse, with the aim of starting to build the foundation for a decolonized Puerto Rican (and Caribbean) archaeology. This work is clearly written from the perspective of someone who is an active participant and consumer of the Puerto Rican "ethnoscape" (Appadurai 1996) and who, thus, envisions the indigenous history that is to be addressed as part of his cultural rubric. Therefore, the main objective of this book is to present a version of the precolonial history of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean written from within and to submit to a critical analysis most of the notions that have been inserted into our historical narratives from without.

The traditional narrative of Puerto Rican history has been typically represented as a four-layer cake. These layers not only are constituted by the different ethnicities that contributed to our current Puerto Rican condition but also embody the distinct historical events that provide the backbone of the shared culture-historical imagery of our "500 years of history." This cake is stratigraphically arranged with the indigenous people at the bottom, overlain by the Spanish and then the African traditions, and finally being frosted by the influence from the United States after their military invasion of our island in 1898. There is one major contribution from each of these layers: our noble character from the indigenous past; our mother culture from the Spanish past; our spicy flavor from the African past; and our capital and modernity from the United States.

This essentialist view of each of those contributions in the construction of the official history of Puerto Rico more than half a century ago is particularly evident in the case of our lowermost cultural strata, which was (and still is) represented exclusively by the Taíno, the ethnonym ascribed to the first indigenous societies to suffer and combat the effects of the European invasion of this part of the world. This emphasis on the Taíno has resulted in an image of a pre-Columbian past that proceeds along a horizontal temporal vector, excluding from it those groups that inhabited the island prior to the Spanish incursion because they were not immortalized in written (i.e., historical) documents. As a result, our past has been collapsed into the aforementioned "500 years of history," prior to which there was only prehistory. This emphasis on documentary evidence in the construction of our historical narrative has thus resulted in a disjunction with an ancient past that goes back for more than 6,000 years, based on the still pervasive "tyranny of the historical record" (Champion 1990) against archaeological data, which are usually considered to not be reliable enough to build history. In the limited number of instances in which more careful attention is placed on the indigenous heritage of our historical lifeline, the focus is on the development of the peoples who migrated to the Antilles around 500 B.C. They are known archaeologically as the Cedrosan Saladoid and parochially as the Igneri and are thought to be the "ancestors of the Taino" (Rouse 1992:37).

However, Puerto Rico was inhabited for millennia prior to the arrival of Cedrosan peoples. The original inhabitants of the island, archaeologically known as the Archaic peoples, are usually characterized as primitive societies that lacked agriculture, ceramics, or any other complex technology. Thus, it is commonly considered that they were an easy target for the Cedrosan "colonists" (Siegel 2005:vi) from South America, who upon their arrival quickly exterminated, acculturated, or displaced them. Their quick disappearance has led to the generalized idea that they "contributed little to the subsequent peoples and cultures of the Greater Antilles" (Rouse and Alegría 1990:80). As a result, these "Archaic" societies have been divorced from the construction of the first stratum of Puerto Rican history (I will discuss the unsuitability of the term Archaic in Chapter 4). This discourse of the unidirectional power relationships that resulted in the colonization of the "Archaic" by the Cedrosan Saladoid does not differ much in its structure from that of the Europeans over the so-called Taíno in the sixteenth century and that of the North Americans over the Spanish at the end of the nineteenth century; all of those events reproduce the tropes of internal subservience and external supremacy that have served to naturalize a condition of coloniality as part of our identity (Pagán Jiménez and Rodríguez Ramos 2008; Sued Badillo 1992). As a result, the history of Puerto Rico has been envisioned as a sequence of colonizations since our early past, and we have had no option but to remain as the oldest colony in this hemisphere since then.

The main archaeological model used to construct such an image of our pre-Columbian history, and that of the rest of the insular Caribbean, was devised by Irving Rouse more than half a century ago (Rouse 1939, 1952). Although Rouse recently passed away, he remains a dominant figure in the Antillean archaeological landscape and his framework continues to be the foundation upon which most archaeological work is conducted in the islands. In the latest version of Rouse's (1992) model, he makes several key assumptions:

The so-called Archaic peoples who arrived in Puerto Rico around 1000 B.C. were hunting-gathering societies. Due to their foraging nature, those early societies were an easy target (i.e., "sitting ducks"; Rouse 1992:70) for the Cedrosan "colonizers" of Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles, who acculturated or displaced them west upon their arrival to the island.

These Cedrosan Saladoid peoples migrated from the Orinoco Basin via the Lesser Antilles into Puerto Rico and eventually into the eastern portion of the Dominican Republic and introduced pottery, agriculture, and settled lifeways to the Antilles.

Within the northern Antilles, the divergent evolution of the Cedrosans gave rise to the Huecan Saladoid subseries documented in Puerto Rico and Vieques.

A round A.D. 250 the Cedrosan Saladoid peoples got rid of, acculturated, or pushed the Huecans to the east, after which they developed phylogenetically in a monocultural landscape into the Taíno.

The precolonial inhabitants of Puerto Rico and the rest of the insular Caribbean did not sustain significant contacts with peoples from surrounding continental regions with the exception of those from northeastern South America, the supposed homeland of our indigenous ancestors.

Rouse used two main lines of evidence to construct this framework. The first was based on the modal analysis of pottery. He contended that the "continuum of modes" observed in pottery from the Cedrosan Saladoid to the Taíno, archaeologically known as Chican Ostionoid, indicates a "genetic" (Rouse 1960a:313) relationship between them. The second major line of evidence consisted of 13 radiocarbon dates recovered from the island, which served as the chronological foundation for the relative cultural sequence that he had previously proposed on the basis of his ceramic analyses. This ceramocentrist perspective embedded in Rousean time-space systematics has, perhaps inadvertently, resulted in the imposition of a condition of liminality on other types of materials, in a similar fashion to that imposed on the "Archaic" peoples (who supposedly did not produce ceramics) in the construction of our historical lifeline. This use of ceramics as the primary unit for tracing the origins and developments of the indigenous peoples of Puerto Rico, as well as in the Antilles in general, has resulted in a lack of systematic studies of other elements that might reveal alternative perspectives about our precolonial culture-historical sequence. This approach also ignores the possible interactions sustained within the island and with other regions besides northeastern South America during pre-Columbian times.

The main purpose of the current work is to put to the test each of the major assumptions made in Rouse's model of our ancient past. Although in this task several lines of data are employed, this is done primarily through the use of two types of evidence heretofore not considered in detail in Antillean culture-historical studies. These are, first, the analysis of the technological styles (sensu Lemonnier 1992, 1998) observed in the operational sequences involved in the production of lithic artifacts on the island through time and, second, the evaluation of an inventory of more than 500 radiocarbon dates recovered from Puerto Rico after Rouse's initial construction of his framework. Through the detailed study of the particular raw materials used for lithic tool production through time in Puerto Rico and the analysis of the technological traditions objectified in the manufacture of more than 8,000 stone artifacts from several sites from the island, this work aims to provide a revamped perspective regarding the ways in which the precolonial peoples of Puerto Rico interacted and negotiated their identities and how these engagements articulated the cultural landscape of the island through time.

A guiding premise in this work is the conservative nature of lithic traditions, whose production protocols seem to be more stable than those observed in the manufacture of other items of material culture such as ceramics, as has been repeatedly argued for the West Indies (Crock and Bartone 1998; Rodríguez Ramos 2001a, 2006; Walker 1980) and for other contexts as well (e.g., Parry and Kelly 1987; Ranere 1975). The continuous enactment of traditions of stoneworking has been observed even in contact situations as drastic as those registered between the indigenous societies of the Americas and the European colonists (Silliman 2001; see chapters in Cobb 2003). Therefore, if the pottery-based sequence proposed by Rouse is correct, then this should be readily reflected by the continuity of the technological traditions embodied in lithic production between the different cultural manifestations defined for the island through time. This continuity should be more clearly reflected by a temporal and spatial continuum in the operational sequences involved in the production of lithic materials within styles, the most finite category in Rouse's (1992) model, and also from one style to the next as cultural divergence within the island proceeded according to this framework.

In addition to the study of the technological traditions observed in lithic production through time, the analysis of the radiocarbon database provides a basis for evaluating other assumptions made in Rouse's scheme such as the timing of the discovery of the island and the introduction of agriculture and pottery production, the duration of the interactions between the "Archaic" peoples and the later newcomers, and the temporal succession of the pottery styles that is considered to be indicative of their phylogenetic divergence. The interassemblage variability observed in the lithic production practices together with their patterns of reproduction and change through time derived from the analysis of the radiocarbon dates provide the basis for revisiting not only the chrono-cultural sequence of the island but also the currently held perspectives about the lifeways and dynamics of interaction of our indigenous ancestors within Puerto Rico and with surrounding regions since their arrival.


Excerpted from Rethinking Puerto Rican Precolonial History by Reniel Rodríguez Ramos Copyright © 2010 by The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations....................vii
1. Introduction....................1
2. Culture History: Toward a Revamped Perspective....................12
3. The Method, the Sample, the Contexts....................27
4. Discovery of Puerto Rico and the Lifeways of its Earliest Inhabitants....................50
5. Coming, Going, and interacting: An Alternative Perspective on the "La Hueca Problem"....................88
6. Horizontal Diversification in Puerto Rico: The Forging of New Identities....................145
7. The Intensification of Regional Political Integration....................187
8. Putting It All Together....................210
References Cited....................223
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