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THE ART AND CULTURE OF THE PRE-COLUMBIAN CARIBBEAN

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The Antilles, or Caribbean archipelago, has been inhabited for some 8,000 years or more. Several waves of Amerindians have come to these islands from various points on the American mainland. The earliest settlers seem to have arrived from both South America and Mesoamerica. They paddled their watercraft across water passages and walked across now-submerged land-bridges.

The very early settlers were followed much later by several other groups, beginning around the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. These later arrivals hailed from various South American groups. It is they who would evolve into the egalitarians, chiefdoms and kingdoms that encountered Columbus in 1492.

More than a dozen different Amerindian groupsinhabited the Caribbean archipelago by the 15th century. These were the first Native Americans to be encountered by Europeans in the Columbian period. As it were, they bore the full and initial brunt of the European diseases and the European colonial project. Consequently, their history and culture is often one of the most difficult to reconstruct, and their surviving numbers are among the most reduced of all native peoples of the Americas.

Fortunately, many of their cultural objects were not made of gold, so that they did not always suffer the same fate as those of their neighbours in South and Central America. Thousands of ceramic, shell and stone objects have been recovered from the Caribbean soils, giving glimpses into ancient Antillean technologies and aesthetics. Several wooden objects have been found that give insight into the religion, iconography and even the social structure of the ancient Antilleans. But almost no fiber and feather objects have been recovered in this humid, insect-rich environment. Of course, the few objects containing gold either had their gold parts removed or were immediately carted off during the Conquest.