Cosmopolitan Polities of the Ancient Caribbean


Peter E. Siegel

Department of Anthropology, Montclair State University

Tuesday, November 12, 2013, 7:00 P.M., Cohen Lounge, Dickson Hall, Montclair State University*

Following the landing of Columbus on San Salvador, Bahamas, in 1492, 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 the diverse range of complex and interacting polities of Taíno Indians located on Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. The chroniclers documented that the Taínos built ceremonial and political centers with monumental architecture, and were fiercely territorial and competitive, politically hierarchical, and frequently engaged in pitched battles of conquest amongst themselves. Jostling for territories in circumscribed spaces like islands presented unique challenges to Taíno polities. Ambitious leaders followed an ideology of domination in their pursuit of followers and more territory. The evidence that we will look at, including dramatic new archaeological finds from Puerto Rico, suggests that such dynamics may have been crucial in the late pre-Columbian expansion of Taíno ideology into the far reaches of the Caribbean.

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.

*Parking available in Red Hawk Deck. Exit to Dickson from Level Five.