GHEA: Caribbean Human Ecodynamics Session: IACA 2011

Product Leader: Jago Cooper

Product Type: Conference Reports and Presentations

Linked Activity/Project: Caribbean Human Ecodynamics

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Caribbean Human Ecodynamics Session: Understanding Human-Climate-Environment Relationships in the Caribbean

Session for the 24th IACA Congress

This session, focused on human-climate-environment relationships in the pre-Columbian Caribbean, was held at the International Association for Caribbean Archaeology Congress in Martinique in July 2011. The Caribbean has seen dramatic changes in paleotemperature, paleoprecipitation and paleotempestology throughout the Holocene due to the vulnerability of the region to fluctuations in North Atlantic Climate systems. These impacts of climate variability, coupled with the dynamic processes of social and environmental change hold important lessons for modern day communities given that climate change is currently the most serious threat to sustainable development facing the Caribbean Islands. The key aim of this session was to understand the dynamic interaction between climate variability, environmental change and the relative resilience of past human lifeways. Therefore papers presented included a range interdisciplinary case studies of past human experience of climate variability and environment change at any and all spatial and temporal scales.  Key themes of threat, vulnerability, resilience and sustainability were explored and discussed through comparative discussion of the case studies presented from throughout the Caribbean. The presentations are all provided in pdf form.

Acknowledgements: Funding for this session was provided by the Leverhulme Trust, University of Leicester and National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs Science, Engineering, & Education Research Coordination Network grant no 1140106. 

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4_Guillaume_Lalubie.pdfLa perception des aléas naturels aux Petites Antilles par les Amérindiens Kalinagos (Guillaume Lalubie) The vocabulary of Kalinago Amerindians has survived through a few works, especially three dictionaries written by the Reverent Father Raymond Breton. The Kalinago vocabulary informs us about the perception of their environment, but also their concerns of natural hazards. The study of the dictionary "Carib-French" (Breton R., 1665) shows a detail vocabulary about the natural sciences, such as life sciences, geosciences, marine and the maritime sciences in the broad sense. The vocabulary presents a fine analysis to describe different gradients which concern various registers: climatic, meteorologic, hydrologic, geomorphologic, etc. Through the scientific vocabulary of Kalinagos, we can understand their concerns in the field of natural risks. It is possible to establish some differences of perception. In active volcanic island arc, all natural hazards were mentioned, except the volcanic eruption. And yet, during the 350 years before colonization, the Amerindians have experienced 16 magmatic eruptions. That brings us to the following question: are eruptions more dangerous hazard on volcanoes? The kalinago society has probably a perception of volcanoes with a different time scale than ours: a time scale suited to the hazard impacts, their threats.
1_Jago_Cooper.pdfThe human experience of climate variability and environmental change in the Caribbean:a longue durée perspective (Jago Cooper) This paper will present selected results from a recent Leverhulme funded research project entitled ‘The Archaeology of Climate Change in the Caribbean’. This project has focused on past human-climate-environment relationships at regional, national and local scales in the pre-Columbian Caribbean. The first objective of this research has been to identify the impacts of known changes in paleotemperature, paleoprecipitation and paleotempestology throughout the Holocene and study the relationship to known variability in wider North Atlantic Climate systems. The second objective of this research has been to re-consider the vulnerability of different pre-Columbian communities to a range of climatic and environmental hazards in the Caribbean. Using selected case studies to identify the scaled temporalities with which climatic and environmental hazards can impact human communities, it has been possible to assess the relative resilience of different short and long-term mitigation strategies. Comparative analysis of settlement locations, subsistence systems and household architecture from different pre-Columbian sites in Cuba will be discussed and areas for future research highlighted. It is hoped that these discussions, coupling climate variability with the dynamic processes of social and environmental change, can hold important lessons for modern day communities facing the prospect of sudden environmental change in the Caribbean.
2_Sophia_Perdikaris.pdfPaleoenvironmental investigations in Barbuda, West Indies (Sophia Perdikaris, Reg Murphy, Thomas McGovern and William Patterson) Over the last five years, international interdisciplinary collaboration led by Brooklyn College on the Island of Barbuda, West Indies has been generating cutting edge information about the interrelationship of people and environment from the earliest settlement to modern times. Barbuda faces challenges associated with rapid global change to; climate, sea level, plant and animal life, and the social and economic disruptions caused by dramatic shifts in the world economy. Fieldwork in Barbuda has been providing fresh data allowing a systems-science interdisciplinary approach to the complex dynamics of long-term human interaction with island ecosystems. Barbuda’s 5000 year peopling history brings colonization, extinction in the local fauna and flora, and human settlement that maintained contacts well beyond the limits of the island along with adaptations to fluctuating fresh water and occasionally catastrophic hurricane activity. This presentation will focus on some of the newest discoveries surrounding the early Saladoid site of Seaview and the surrounding caves of the escarpment on the eastern shores of the island. A new methodology is also yielding very exciting results in higher resolution connections between people and weather. Initial stable isotope analysis of a modern C. pica from Barbuda collected in January of 2010 showed a very good correlation with measurements of Sea Surface Temperature collected by weather buoys in Guadeloupe, Barbados and US Virgin Islands. Two C. pica from the Seaview site that undergone the same analysis resulted in interesting patterns in isotopic variability that could potentially be hurricane indicators.
3_Nigel_Bardoe_Samantha_Rebovich.pdfLooking back to look forward: using archaeological research to inform environmental policy (Nigel Bardoe and Samantha Rebovich) Climate change and environmental sustainability are challenges that plague the modern world. Yet, in many areas of the Caribbean, environmental resource data is outdated and environmental policies do not reflect the needs of changing populations in relation to island resources. Recent archaeological research is doing much to examine how humans have always had to adapt climate change in innovative ways. This research can be used to help inform and develop environmental policies throughout the Caribbean. More so than offering insights into how past people’s adapted to climate change, archaeological methods can provide data on modern ecological systems and environmental resources. Working with archaeologists provides environmental groups and departments with a means of developing ecological datasets and informing policy decisions.
5_Krysta_Ryzewski_John_Cherry.pdfLives and archaeology of risk: diachronic land-use, settlement, and volcanic activity on Montserrat (Krysta Ryzewski and John F. Cherry) Since 1995, Montserrat has been affected by the ongoing eruptions of the Soufrière Hills volcano, which have displaced two-thirds of the island’s population, and destroyed over half of the landscape in the island’s south. Eruptions have impacted many of Montserrat’s previously studied archaeological sites. As the remaining population relocates to the north to re-settle, this area’s landscape is undergoing massive and rapid transformations, placing countless archaeological sites and cultural landscape features at risk of damage or destruction. In 2010 a team of archaeologists from Brown University established the project Survey and Landscape Archaeology on Montserrat to locate and study the island’s archaeological resources in the non-exclusion zone, an area that has received limited previous archaeological attention. The project has a diachronic scope, and it combines pedestrian survey with test excavations, in order to evaluate changing land-use and settlement over the entirety of Montserrat’s inhabitation, as well as to assess the risks posed to archaeological sites by both volcanic activity and current reconstruction activities. Two fieldwork seasons in 2010 located dozens of archaeological sites and landscape features, all but one previously unexamined archaeologically. This presentation discusses the initial findings from 2010 and 2011, which already call attention to the need to examine archaeological evidence within local and long-term frameworks that differ from the emphasis on single sites and migrations that have dominated Caribbean archaeology.
6_George_Hambrecht.pdfHistorical archaeology on Barbuda – Human ecodynamics in the Early Modern Caribbean (George Hambrecht) The Historical Archaeology of Barbuda offers a number of interesting possibilities that lie outside the more traditional field of plantation archaeology and that show great potential for the study of the human ecodynamics of the early modern Caribbean. Though there were early attempts to raise cash crops the island of Barbuda was by the middle of the 18th century used as a provisioning center as well as a hunting retreat by the Codrington family. There are a number of interesting sites that have been investigated over the past three seasons as well as a number of outstanding issues to investigate moving forward. The Highland House site in particular, a Georgian highland hunting lodge/managerial center has been the subject of both survey and preliminary excavation. The last few years of research have also revealed a number of fascinating issues that will be approached through archaeology as well as history and the environmental sciences. Documentary evidence and the memories of the Barbudans suggest that 18th century and 19th century Barbudans lived a much healthier and possibly happier lifestyle than that of their fellow enslaved Africans on the sugar islands of the Caribbean. The islands’ size as well as its ownership by one family also allows the island to be looked at as one complete cultivated and ordered site as a whole. Current research focusing on environmental, climate and landscape change will supply high resolution proxy data that will allow for a human ecodynamics approach to the study of the historic period in Barbuda. This paper will offer an overview of the research to date focusing on the historic period in Barbuda as well as its future potential.
7_Isabel_Rivera.pdfLandscape change and human ecodynamics in pre-Saladoid Puerto Rico: the case of Angostura (Isabel Rivera-Collazo) The Mid-Holocene (6 – 3 thousand years ago), brought to the Caribbean increased precipitation, greater seasonality, wet and mesic forest expansion, and sea level adjustment. The period also encompasses the earliest evidence of permanent human settlement on the Greater Antilles. Recent studies on Pre-Arawak contexts suggest that human ecodynamics and sociocultural arrangements were significantly more complex than previously acknowledged. Understanding past landscapes and seascapes, and the distribution of resources on them, permits the formulation of more detailed and solid arguments that enable addressing human behaviour in the past and permit assessing and contextualizing sociocultural complexity, flexibility and vulnerability to change. In this presentation I will discuss the most recent results of the Angostura Archaeological Project, which studies the earliest site identified on Puerto Rico to this date. Detailed geoarchaeological and paleoecological analyses show that the landscape surrounding Angostura has changed dramatically since the Mid-Holocene from an aquatic setting of marshes and estuary to a mostly terrestrial context adjacent to an active floodplain. Habitat diversity for resource exploitation, coupled with active membership to maritime trading networks and exploitation of inland resources, supported permanent long term occupation on a richly domesticated seascape.
10_Tom_McGovern.pdfThis invited session discussion provides an inter-regional comparative perspective that helps to situate the Caribbean Ecodynamics case studies presented in this session within the wider global research community.
8_Alice_Samson.pdfThe wise (wo)man builds his house upon the rock: architectural resilience in the Pre- Columbian Greater Antilles (Alice V. M. Samson) Human ecodynamics; the intertwining of society, culture and ecology, are expressed in domestic architecture of the Greater Antilles, retrievable due to the increase in extensive horizontal excavations in the Caribbean over the last decade. Archaeological data spanning six centuries (AD 900-1500) from sites in the Greater Antilles is used to define indigenous building and dwelling practices, evolved in architectural traditions. This synthesis shows that we can now say more about indigenous architecture than that houses were simply unprepossessing pole and thatch huts in a “global vernacular”. Rather house-building in the pre-Columbian Caribbean forms an “insular architectural mode” which was adapted to island and coastal ecologies, was widespread, resistant to extreme weather events, and manifested local and long-term dwelling practices.
9_Cory_Look.pdfPredictive models, climatic fluctuations, and settlement systems in Pre-Columbian archaeology (Cory Look) This paper will employ the use of viewshed, nearness, and disaster modeling in order to build upon a framework to elucidate climatic factors that may have spurred new adaptations within settlement systems. By analyzing the variable and unpredictable nature of island environments, we can begin to see how the changes in sea surface temperatures, hurricane intensity and frequency, as well as storm surges can create unique island identities. Preliminary findings from Antigua, Barbuda and Montserrat on Pre-Columbian settlements have provided a strong case for creating deep time models of climatic risk assessment. As Geographic Information Systems (GIS) studies have become the standard utility for island planners and developers; conservation and preservation efforts of cultural heritage sites must employ complimentary tools in their field methods in order to meet the demands of rapid development. Through this holistic approach, these studies may prove vital in mitigating future disasters.