Interisland Interaction and the Development of Chiefdoms in the Eastern Caribbean

John Gordon Crock

PhD Thesis. 2001

This dissertation investigates the development of social complexity in the small islands of the northern Lesser Antilles during the millennium prior to European Contact. As such, this work approaches research problems largely unstudied in this portion of the Caribbean and a subject matter traditionally reserved for the larger islands of the Greater Antilles. The field work for this project was conducted in Anguilla, the norternmost of the Lesser Antilles, and was designed to evaluate the hypotehsized existence of a chiefdom level society in the Eastern Caribbean during late prehistory.

A sample of five large habituation sites, all occupied during the post-Saladoid period, ca. A.D. 900-1500, was studied to facilitate a range of comparisons between contemporaneous sites. Testing and excavation at these sites reveals differences between them in terms of environmental characteristics, settlement history, site size and proportions of artifacts related to status and interisland trade and exchange. Together these differences strongly suggest the development of a hierarchy of settlements on the island ca. A.D. 900-1500. Two of the sites studied also were occupied during the earlier post-Saladoid period, ca. A.D. 600-900, and indicate that founding settlements remained at the top of a local hierarchy as more sites were settled over time.

The results of this field work indicate that prehistoric Anguillians were a model maritime society, dependent upon the sea for a major portion of their diet and dependent upon networks of interisland exchange for a variety of goods, materials and membership in a broader Taino or proto-Taino cultural systems. These data offer strong support for a theoretical model in which elites were able to parlay control of interisland exchange and religious ideology into greater control of domestic production activities, enhancing and further solidifying their positions of status. Finally, the sites studied in Anguilla are many times larger than similarly aged sites on other islands in the northern Lesser Antilles suggesting that Anguilla may have been a population center and at the top of a regional hierarchy during the post-Saladoid period.