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Stone tools are the hallmark of prehistoric settlements around the world: in the Caribbean, as elsewhere, they were essential for basic tasks such as food processing, wood carving, etc. In addition they could serve as markers of prestige, especially as they were all from non-local sources. Being entirely limestone islands, the vast Bahama (Lucayan) archipelago – comprising over 700 islands and some 3000 cays – is unique in the Caribbean in entirely lacking hard stone (flint, basalt, jadeitite). Was this lack of such a critical resource a contributing factor to their late settlement (post-AD 600), despite occupation on neighbouring Cuba and the Dominican Republic/Haiti going back millennia? And once settled, how was access to hard stone achieved, and what does this tell us about people’s abilities to adapt to challenging environments?
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Celts from various Turks and Caicos archaeological sites, collected by Grand Turk resident George J. Gibbs in the 19th century, now housed at the American Museum of Natural History.

 

 

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Project SIBA (‘stone’ in Classic Taíno dialect), funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, aims to characterize the regional social networks that bound the Lucayan archipelago to the wider Caribbean region, and so provide an understanding of the creation and maintenance of indigenous exchange networks, and their associated economic, cultural and socio-political impacts. One direct means of exploring these issues is through the study of the imported material culture itself, including identifying an artefact’s provenance through its diagnostic chemical and isotope ‘signature’ using state of the art geochemical techniques. An artefact’s distinctive style or iconography (what the artifact depicts and its possible significance) are a complementary means of ‘sourcing’ artefacts. The absence of convincing stylistic similarities in artefacts from neighbouring regions would imply the local reworking of stone in the creation of a distinctive Lucayan cannon, expanding understanding of Lucayan carving styles, which are themselves poorly known. 

The project works from the micro-scale (e.g., materials, manufacture, iconography, local context, etc.) to the macro-scale (Lucayan archipelago distribution of individual materials and their sourcing in the wider Caribbean region) to explore the connections between people and the stones they worked, exchanged and valued. By examining pre-colonial exchange networks in some detail, the project seeks to better understand resilience and sustainability in a resource-poor island context, and to question the core-periphery relations that have dominated discussion in Bahamian archaeology.

A major output of the project will be the physical and chemical characterisation of a large body of worked stone, fine-tuning our understanding of the movement of stone valuables across the ‘Caribbeanscape’. SIBA thus has the potential of making a significant contribution to understanding the establishment and maintenance of new communities in previously uninhabited island settings, as well as fully integrating the archaeology of the Lucayan archipelago within the wider Caribbean perspective

 

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