Canadian Pre-Columbian Archaeology in Cuba

Saturday, May 5, 2018 - 8:30am to 12:10pm
Terrace East
The Archaic Age in the Caribbean is estimated to have lasted between 5000 BCE and 200 BCE, characterized by a marine-based subsistence with no food production. However, results of Cuban-Canadian research project developed during the last 10 years build a more complex picture of Archaic Age groups in the Greater Antilles. Rigorous application of scientific techniques to skeletal material and archaeological remains from several sites from Matanzas and Granma provinces demonstrate very early use of (exotic and local) cultivated plants, the concurrent existence of two different subsistence systems in the western parts of Cuba, and a survival of these groups till the end of the 1st millennium CE. In this session, participants will be presenting – and discussing the implications of – new data collected through archaeological, bioarchaeological, paleoethnobotanical, isotope analysis, bathymetric, and linguistic studies conducted on the island of Cuba, and explore the problems of migration and exchange within the Greater Antilles and between the islands and the mainland (Central America). Introducing novel research results from Cuba will invigorate current discussions and provide a blueprint for better understanding of Archaic Age societies and of the peopling of the Greater Antilles.
  • Ivan Roksandic, University of Winnipeg
  • Yadira Chinique de Armas, University of Winnipeg
08:30 AM: Problems and potentials of pollen analysis as a cultivation indicator: a case study from Cayo Coco, Cuba
  • Anna Agosta G'meiner - Research Associate at PerosLab
  • Matthew Peros - Bishop's University
  • Nadine Kanik - Western University
  • Bill Buhay - University of Winnipeg
  • Mirjana Roksandic - University of Winnipeg
We present pollen, macrocharcoal, and isotopic evidence from Cenote Jennifer, a flooded sinkhole on Cayo Coco, Cuba, which indicates possible prehistoric settlement in the region. The sinkhole is one of the few freshwater basins on Cayo Coco and is the focus of intensive and ongoing paleoenvironmental investigations. Numerous archaeological sites are located on the cays westward of Cenote Jennifer and on the mainland, including the Taino settlement of Los Buchillones. There are no known archaeological sites on Cayo Coco, likely due to a lack of archaeological surveys than due to a lack of prehistoric presence. Our paleoecological data shows an increase in disturbance indicators (e.g. Senna spp., Asteraceae) beginning around 2800 cal yr BP, suggesting that humans may have been on Cayo Coco several thousand years earlier than previously realized. Moreover, several large pollen grains have been identified from ~850 BCE (2800 cal yr BP) to ~1350 CE concurrent with the presence of disturbance indicators. A lack of consensus on identifying the pollen grains (possibly Cucurbita spp., Ipomoea batatas) has made the interpretation of the data inconclusive. Issues around the lack of pollen keys for the Caribbean, in particular for cultigens, as well as a poor understanding of the dispersal of cultigens from their centers of origin (i.e., travel of Cucurbita from Central America to the Caribbean), make interpretation difficult. Pollen analysis can be a powerful tool to support the understanding of Archaic Age societies in Cuba, however more rigorous research on pollen morphology and variations of cultigens is needed.
08:50 AM: Mid-Holocene Human Migration from Central America to Cuba
  • Bill Buhay - University of Winnipeg
  • Matthew Peros - Bishop's University
The geography of the Caribbean, coupled with relatively consistent trade wind circulation, produce very strong contemporary ocean circulation patterns that, from a present day perspective, would seem to have made human marine migration from Central America to the island of Cuba quite challenging during the mid-Holocene. However, increasing evidence suggesting that there was less trade wind driven upwelling and increased instability and westerly wind anomalies (conditions similar to present day El Nino events) within the Caribbean due to a more northerly displacement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) during the Holocene Thermal Maximum (8000 to 5000 years before present). These different atmosphere-ocean conditions, together with lower sea levels at the time, suggest that a much different Caribbean ocean circulation regime may have existed, one that could have been more conducive to human crossings from the Central American mainland to Cuba. Possible mid-Holocene Caribbean circulation differences (through the use of Search & Rescue Model and Response System software - SARMAP) and evidence supporting the possibility of the start of Human marine migration from Central America to Cuba will be discussed.
09:10 AM: Archaeotoponomastics in the Greater Antilles
  • Ivan Roksandic - University of Winnipeg
Toponyms form a distinct subset of lexical inventory of any language and play an important part in the culture of its speakers. One interesting aspect of toponymy in the Western Caribbean is that a substantial portion of it consists of indigenous place names, in spite of the fact that none of the languages present on the islands prior to European arrival is still spoken there today. Clearly, the corpus of pre-Columbian toponyms in the region represents a store of potential answers – or at least hints – to numerous questions about Caribbean past(s). Nonetheless, it remains largely neglected and understudied; although a number of comprehensive works has been devoted to collecting place names on individual islands, far fewer analytic studies have been accomplished so far. While an important majority of indigenous place names are Taíno, as it was both the dominant language and lingua franca in the region at the time of the initial contact, a number of toponyms display characteristics that are difficult to interpret as such. Identifying areal sets of place names which display recurrent non-Arawak structures, systematic analysis of their morphophonological and lexical characteristics, and their comparison with the linguistic features of relevant language families spoken in the contiguous continental regions, such as Chibchan, Misumalpan, and Warao, can make a significant contribution to our understanding of population groups on the islands in the pre-contact period and of the sources and routes of early migratory movements in the Western Caribbean.
09:30 AM: Ancient DNA preservation in Caribbean human remains
  • Kathrin Nägele - Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Khalaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany
  • Cosimo Posth - Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Khalaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany
  • Mirjana Roksandic - Department of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Canada
  • Yadira Chinique de Armas - Department of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Canada
  • Ulises Gonzales Herrera - Instituto Cubano de Antropologia Amargura No. 203, e/ Habana y Aguiar. La Habana Vieja. C.P. 10100. Ciudad de La Habana, Cuba
  • Hannes Schroeder - Center for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, 1350 Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Johannes Krause - Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Khalaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany
Whole genome analyses of ancient human remains are providing new insights into the understanding of human population history. The retrieval of ancient DNA (aDNA) is however limited not only by time but also by environmental conditions. While in temperate climate regions, aDNA has shown to survive under ideal conditions since the Pleistocene, tropical climates - such as in the Caribbean region – represent an obstacle for aDNA preservation even from much more recent times. However, the petrous portion of the temporal bone has been shown to yield outstanding preservation allowing the retrieval of aDNA from regions and times previously thought to be inaccessible. Here, we screened for aDNA the petrous portions of two individuals from to the Archaic period excavated at the Playa del Mango site in Cuba. We further performed genome-wide targeted enrichment and compared the resulting data to a recently sequenced 1,000 years old genome of a Taino individual from the Bahamas as well as present-day populations from neighboring regions. Due to the complexity of recent admixture  aDNA can provide useful insights into the peopling of the Caribbean region and the succession of events in its population history.
09:50 AM: Understanding early migrations in the Caribbean
  • Mirjana  Roksandic - University of Winnipeg
The Caribbean is characterised by a diversity of its landscapes, populations and languages. When perceived as a dynamic place of cultural production, it was responding to both the arrivals of new groups and internal developments in a variety of ways that produced novel forms of culture and interaction. We examine the complex issues regarding the peopling of this region, the prevalent ideas about the process, the identity of indigenous groups living on the islands, the possible source areas of incoming migrants, and the chronology of their movements. We focus on the most salient points, as well as on new understandings and insights, and present how the research of our team working in Cuba – specifically at Canímar Abajo site – contributes to these debates. Research on Canímar Abajo has allowed our team to infer the presence of two different populations – with different dietary and cultural practices – synchronously occupying a restricted geographic area in western Cuba. While Canímar Abajo was certainly an important landscape marker for populations living in the region for at least 3000 years, we suspect that it is not unique in its potential to produce unexpected results that require re-examination of our current perceptions. A growing number of systematic analyses of skeletal material from already excavated sites in the Caribbean, stable isotope studies of both dietary practices and migrations, as well as advances in aDNA extraction presented today, allow us to build a more evidence-based picture of the early peopling of the islands.
10:30 AM: Revisiting Cuban Archeology: The Aboriginal Archaeological Heritage in the Canímar River Basin, Matanzas
  • Silvia Teresita Hernandez Godoy - Provincial Department of Culture of Matanzas; University of Matanzas
  • Logel  Lorenzo Hernandez - Museo de la Ruta del Esclavo Castillo de San Severino, Heritage Center of Matanzas
  • Esteban Ruben  Grau González-Quevedo - Fundation Antonio Núñez Jiménez de la Naturaleza y el Hombre
  • Yadira Chinique de Armas - University of Winnipeg
  • Mirjana Roksandic - University of Winnipeg
The Canímar River basin, located on the north coast of the province of Matanzas in Cuba, was a favorable natural scenario for the early human settlement of Cuba. The archaeological sites reported in the sixties of the twentieth century reveal their significance in the archaeological context of the archipelago. The Canímar basin facilitated human access to varied resources of the area and favored the long-term occupation by indigenous communities, as evidenced in the long archaeological record (5500 BC - 1360 B.C.). Previous studies have reported the presence of indigenous groups with low and high levels of productivity. They provided a fragmented view of the archaeology of the region as they were concentrated on individual sites. In this project, we include the whole hydrographic basin as a unit of analysis in order to interpret the material evidences recovered during the fieldwork and examine how they fit in the chrono-spatial network. In this presentation, we provide an update on the archaeological record in the area; analyze the archaeological findings from a regional perspective and evaluate the preservation of archaeological sites. Among the main results are the geographic characterization of the Canímar River basin and the inventory of existing archaeological heritage (sites and collections) and a critical evaluation of previous research. We discuss strategies for the optimization of research in the area and promote dissemination of results and conservation of sites.
10:50 AM: Sociocultural, Economic and Chrono-Spatial Context of the Precolonial Occupation in the Archaeological Area of Playa del Mango, Río Cauto, Southeast Cuba
  • Ulises Miguel Gonzalez Herrera - Cuban Institute of Anthropology
  • Yadira Chinique de Armas - University of Winnipeg
  • Mirjana Roksandic - University of Winnipeg
In this presentation, we summarize preliminary research results from several archaeological field seasons in the lowlands of the Gulf of Guacanayabo (Cuba), and discuss the pattern of aboriginal settlement on the southern slope of the Cauto River Basin. The analysis is based on contrasting the most recent archaeological census conducted in the country with the natural resource structure of this geographical area. Based on the analysis of the spatial use of the site, and the first radiocarbon dates obtained, we can observe an emerging pattern associated with the identified mortuary practices. Based on the available data, we characterize the economic and socio-cultural aspects of the pre-colonial occupation at Playa del Mango. It was possible to confirm a prolonged use of the site with clear vestiges of residential settlements, possibly linked to two occupations of communities of low productive levels that occupied the area between 1800 and 2100 B.P. Based on the analysis of the spatial distribution of the archaeological mounds and the material culture recovered, the indigenous settlement is best understood within the Antillean Banwaroide cultural complex.
11:10 AM: Assessing the Differential Use of Plants among Archaic Age Populations in Cuba
  • Yadira Chinique de Armas - University of Winnipeg
  • Ulises M. González  Herrera - Cuban Institute of Anthropology
  • Roberto Rodríguez  Suarez - Cuban Institute of Anthropology
  • Idalí  Reyes - Cuban Institute of Anthropology
  • Megan Fylik - University of Winnipeg
  • Mirjana Roksandic - University of Winnipeg
Starch and isotopic analyses have changed our understanding of plant management among “fisher-gatherer” indigenous groups in Cuba, traditionally considered as homogeneous populations who depended on natural resources, without management of cultigens. In this paper we examine the subsistence strategies and food consumption patterns of the individuals from Guayabo Blanco, Cueva del Perico I, Cueva Calero, Canímar Abajo and Playa del Mango sites by combining stable isotopes (δ13C and δ15N) in bone and starch analysis of dental calculus. Results suggest that at least two different food consumption patterns coexisted among “fisher-gathers” in Cuba: one consisting of a mixed diet where C3 and C4 plants were present, including cultigens such as Ipomoea batatas, Phaseolus sp. and Zea mays; while other groups had a diet likely characterized by an exclusive consumption of C3 plants. This evidence demonstrated the differential use and management of plants for indigenous populations from western and eastern Cuba since “Archaic” Age times, as an evidence of the diversity of dietary traditions.