October 12, 2013 Peter Siegel, PhD, Department of Anthropology, Montclair State University: "Cosmopolitan Polities of the Ancient Caribbean."
            Five-hundred and twenty-one years ago today, a contingent of men under the command of Christopher Columbus landed on San Salvador, one of the islands in the Bahamian archipelago. A couple of months later they arrived at Hispaniola, a large island currently shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Over the next several years most of the Caribbean islands had been visited by emissaries of the Spanish crown. Accounts written by Columbus, Las Casas, Oviedo, Martire, and Pané, among others, revealed a diverse range of complex and interacting polities located on Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. These were the Taíno Indians and they built ceremonial and political centers with monumental architecture, they maintained inherited status distinctions, and tribute flowed through their networks of settlements. The chroniclers documented these groups to be fiercely territorial and competitive, politically hierarchical, and frequently engaged in pitched battles of conquest amongst themselves. Like chiefdoms all over the world, Taíno polities were unstable social and political formations. Jostling for territories in geographically circumscribed spaces like islands presented unique challenges to winners and losers. An ideology of domination was the ethic that ambitious leaders followed in their pursuit of followers and more territory. Losers in campaigns of conquest could either become followers of winning caciques (chiefs) or align themselves with other polities. Evidence was reviewed, including dramatic new archaeological finds from Puerto Rico, suggesting that such dynamics may have been crucial in the late pre-Columbian expansion of Taíno ideology into the far reaches of the Caribbean geopolitical islandscape.
            Peter Siegel is Professor and Chair of Anthropology and serves on the Steering Committee of the Center for Heritage and Archaeological Studies at Montclair State University. He specializes in pre-Columbian archaeology and ethnography of the Caribbean and lowland South America. Siegel’s research has focused on cosmology, ritual, ideology, social and political inequality, ethnicity, issues of heritage, and historical ecology. Since 2007, he has been leading a multidisciplinary team in the southern and eastern Caribbean in a project entitled Island Historical Ecology: Socionatural Landscapes across the Caribbean Sea. He has been awarded two major grants from the National Science Foundation and one from the National Geographic Society for this project. Siegel was recently a Fulbright Senior Scholar, teaching and collaborating with faculty and students in the Caribbean Research Group, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, The Netherlands.

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