Communities and Socio-political Integration in Pre-Columbian Dominica, West Indies


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Communities and Socio-political Integration in Pre-Columbian Dominica, West Indies
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Grant proposal
Shearn, Isaac
University of Florida
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Gainesville, Fla.
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Submitted as part of application for U.S. Student Fulbright Program 2012-2013

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University of Florida Institutional Repository
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University of Florida
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STATEMENT OF GRANT PURPOSE Isaac Shearn, Dominica, Archaeology Communities and Socio political Integration in Pre Columbian Dominica West Indies. The proposed research is a one year archaeological study of Pre Columbian communities in Dominica, a volc anic island in the southern Lesser Antilles noted for its intense topographic variability, rugged coastline, high rainfall, dense tropical forests, and fertile volcanic soils. The research addresses specific questions about community organization and socio political integration during the Late Ceramic Age (LCA) (ca. 900 1500 CE) as well as broader questions about the relationship of small scale local communities to regional or global networks Background: T he LCA is well studied in many parts of the Cari bbean benefitting from ongoing advances in the application of archaeological methods and new levels of interpretation achieved by applying ethnohistorical documents dating to the contact period ( e.g., S. Wilson Caribbean Archaeology Cambridge, 200 7 ) Du ring t he LCA the Caribbean region was a diverse matrix of ethnic and socio political groupings with wide geographical ranges, often including connections between multiple islands and between the islands and mainland South America The Circum Caribbean reg ion is still very much like this today Dominica is located along what has been called a 2007:148). Given its regional significance, Dominican research remains surprising ly underrepresented as compared to research on other Caribbean islands. Research Objectives : The proposed research is the first major step in establishing a long term archaeological research program in Dominica and is designed to build up a baseline und erstanding of community organization in a range of locales in Dominica. Archaeological excavations will be conducted at a representative sample of sites in three distinct locales in Dominica, each locale defined as a micro region Specific objectives of th e proposed research include: 1) identification of sites; 2) characterization of variability in terms of site size and structure; 3) characterization of relations between sites within the micro region based on distance, intervisibility, and geographic setti ng; and 4) collection of artifacts to provide evidence of interaction, including intra and inter island exchang e Comparisons between sites within micro regions will be conducted to identify aspects of community organization at the local level Comparison s between micro regions should indicate whether communities within micro regions were autonomous or if they were integrated with other such communities across Dominica into higher order regional networks. If integrated, the research should indicate how hig her order communities were organized with respect to sociopolitical hierarchy and/or heterarchy within and between micro regions Preliminary Research /Feasibility : Shearn carried out nine weeks of fieldwork over two seasons in 2009 and 2010 in order to i dentify sites and address logistical concerns about establishing long term research plans in Dominica. These efforts were conducted in collaboration with Dr. Lennox Honychurch, Curator of the Dominica Museum. Honychurch is a Member of the Advisory Committe e to both the Carib Council and University of West Indies and has held several positions in the Government of Dominica (see attached Letter of Affiliation). In 2009, reconnaissance survey and suitability assessments were conducted in approximately 20 disti nct locales, and archaeological excavations and systematic collections of artifacts found on the surface were conducted at six sites located across Dominica. Computer modeling of ge ographical features, along with the results of this research, suggested tha t l arge stable watersheds with accessible coastlines stood out as important settlement locations. One such watershed was


STATEMENT OF GRANT PURPOSE Isaac Shearn, Dominica, Archaeology targeted in 2010 for more extensive investigation. P edestrian survey w as conducted in the area surrounding Castle Bruce and six discrete sites were identified and investigated The study demonstrated the presence of sites in a variety of sizes and settings within the watershed, and suggested that intervisibility among sites may have been an important factor in their location. These efforts were crucial for establishing a feasible scope of work for the proposed study Methods: Fieldwork will include additional excavations and systematic surface collections at Castle Bruce, a s well as at two other micro regions initially investigated in 2009; Pagua Bay, located 9 km north, and Delices, located 17 km south. Excavations will include 50 cm x 50 cm test pits arranged at regular intervals across sites, and 1 m x 1 m test units in a reas with high artifact density, good preservation; or unique features such as fire hearths, residual stains from post in ground structures, or refuse middens. This sample should capture the range of variation of both the size and density of sites, while s imultaneously capturing the range of settin gs in which sites are found. As pottery is likely to dominate the artifacts assemblages, pottery analysis will play a crucial role in the research. Data on pottery manufacture techniques will be used to investigat e differential labor investment, a critical feature in the organization of a community Variability in the functional aspects of the pottery assemblages between sites will aid in determining what types of activities occurred at different sites while s tylis tic aspects of pottery design will be analyzed for evidence of boundary or identity maintenance practices Significance: This research will be the first study of settlement patterns and community organization in Dominica as well as the first dissertation specifically focused on the prehistory of Dominica. This research will seek to advance both the regional understanding of community organization, and the broader theoretical and methodological issues surrounding the concept of community in archaeology. By investigating the relationship between local communities in Dominica and regional cultural or socio political networks, the research has broad significan ce to Anthropology, which is growingly concerned with the dynamic relationship between global and loca l communities As a n early step towards a long term research initiative, the proposed research will provide a groundwork on which more detailed archaeological studies can be based. Impact : Public outreach initiatives were begun in 2010 when Shearn invite d Dr. Honychurch to join him in presenting a public lecture at the community center in Grand Fond, the small village in which Shearn and his crew resided. This lecture, in which Shearn presented his initial findings, was videotaped and rebroadcast on local television, reaching an island wide audience. This generated significant interest in the research and, in the weeks that followed, Shearn provided opportunities for several individuals to participate in the on going excavations and to receive on site trai ning. The proposed research will expand significantly upon these public outreach initiatives in order to: (1) promote cultural heritage management by raising awareness mote training and education to local participants who are traditionally underrepresented in the execution, interpretation, and presentation of Caribbean research. Over the course of the year, Shearn will present lectures at more community centers, schools, and through radio broadcasts; produce informational posters and small exhibits for display in village community centers and national parks; design an exhibit for the Dominica Museum; and provide opportunities for students and other interested parties to p articipate in the research and help design methods for interpreting, presenting and publicizing results.


PERSONAL STATEMENT Isaac Shearn, Dominica, Archaeology Over the last five years, I have developed a long term relationship with Dominica. I first became aware of Dominica through Dr. James Petersen my undergraduate advisor at the University of Vermont ( UVM) who, in 2005, began a collaboration with French archaeologist Dr. Benoit Berard to conduct the first phases of a long term archaeological research project in Dominica Tragically, Peters en passed away later that year. In 2006 I went to Dominica for th e first time with other members of the 2005 crew in order to continue the work that Petersen had started with Berard I returned to Dominica in 2009 for a month of fieldwork, now as principal investigator, and again in 2010 for six weeks. In 2010, I made the village of Grand Fond my base of operations During my stay in Grand Fond I was something of an oddity. I already knew several people in the Grand Fond community having visited many times in previous years but now I was living in the village, in a h ouse rented to me. The house was across the street from the practice house for a local reggae band, The Blazing Squad A drummer for over 15 years, I was delighted, and on my first night in Grand Fond, I got to sit in on drums. I began to play with them on a regular basis and joined them for a number of shows at the local bar. Having first bonded over music, we soon realized that several members of the band were related to Junior Felix and David Prince, local friends in Grand Fond I had m et in 2006 and had stayed in touch with. Along with me were two volunteers, Warren Rich and Allie Clark, UVM graduates who had received training from the same archaeological field school I attended as an undergrad, and for which I later served as TA. Warre n achieved near celebrity status in the village by playing keyboards in the band, an instrument that carries far more status in Dominican reggae music than drums. By night, we spent our time learning to cook local dishes and to play local music. By day w e worked. Hard work is highly valued in Grand Fond, and everyone there knew we were working hard, our SUV crammed with equipment, and our clothes often caked i n mud ; e specially once we started bringing people from the village out to show them the sites we were working on Traveling north by car, Castle Bruce is the nearest village to Grand Fond, and it was in Castle Bruce that we spent our days doing the nuts and bolts of preliminary archaeological survey. Having all worked as professional archaeologists, w e were able to accomplish a great deal of work in a very efficient manner. However, it would not have been possible without the help of our friends Junior and David. They already knew about archaeology, and immediately wanted to learn more, and work with u s when ever they could. B y working with Junior and David, we were able to communicate our intentions much more effectively with local landowners, and we also learn ed invaluable insights about Dominica, such as how particular watersheds flood during the rain y season and which kinds of soils are the best for agriculture Our house became a popular hangout, so we got to discuss our work with many people in the community. Marcus, a local artist and singer in The Blazing Squad, was immediately interested in our work ; through our talks, we came up with the idea for the public presentation I later organized. We now have plans to renovate a small historic building to serve as an educational center for the history and culture of the area. By developing this long ter m relationship with Dominica I hope to provide the framework for an international collaboration in which American students, such as Warren and Allie can collaborate with local Dominicans such as Junior, David, and Marcus in a variety of archaeological, et hnographic, and public education projects.