Epilogue: Explorations in Jamaican historical archaeology

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In May 2007, the World Archaeological Congress hosted an intercongressional seminar in Kingston, Jamaica. The meeting revolved around two themes: historical archaeology in Jamaica and archaeological resource protection measures.1 Jamaica has a long record of engagement in both areas through its heritage preservation legislation and attention paid to the examination of its historical and archaeological legacies. The nation's motto, "Out of Many, One People," expresses a longstanding interest in understanding the diverse heritage of its population, an interest expressed in the deep commitment Jamaicans have to understanding and preserving the rich diversity of the island nation's heritage. For many years, the people of Jamaica and their government have recognized that a significant part of their heritage exists through archaeological remains, and they have been diligent about preserving and interpreting both pre- Columbian and colonial period sites on the island. Each of the authors in this volume has had the privilege of working with the Jamaican people to better understand the complex legacies of those later colonial sites. The historical landscape of Jamaica, like that of the Caribbean as a whole, integrates global trends with localized cultural expressions. Over the past three decades, examination of local historical archaeology in Jamaica has provided much insight into a wide range of broader colonial processes, reflecting the global landscape of colonial expansion, globalized trade, and the construction of social relations built upon systems of inequality. Various research programs have explored the intersections of contact- period native Caribbean (Taino) people with a variety of European and African migrants, the repressive labor system that used enslaved laborers from Africa and indentured laborers from Asia, the development of local and globalized trade, and the development of local cultures and economies, to name just a few of the topics tackled by historical archaeologists on the island. However, the historical and archaeological record should not be seen as passive phenomena. The study of the dynamic heritage of Jamaica also considers how the island's people have had the resolve to develop creative solutions to transcend the legacies of co lo nial ism and to create a nation that challenges the systems of inequality it has inherited while simultaneously embracing the diversity of its past. Historical archaeology has played a significant role in the development of Jamaica's deep historical consciousness. When I arrived in Jamaica in the early 1980s I was impressed by the multilateral resolve to have the story of the people documented and incorporated into daily life. Although the 1980s were marked by political turmoil and economic hardship, all parties agreed on the importance of moving Jamaica's heritage forward. Archaeological reconnaissance of Jamaica's past was a point of common agreement that persisted through economic difficulty and political tension. Despite the vagaries of political change and economic trouble, the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) has continued to carry forward a rich tradition of scholarly and scientific research aimed at serving the Jamaican public.2 This is a tradition of which the Jamaican people are rightly proud. Jamaican people are deeply aware of the important role their ancestors played in shaping the modern world. Although Jamaica is a small country, the historical archaeology of the island reflects global phenomena that have impacted the entire Caribbean region. While the history of Jamaica has been shaped by broader regional and global interactions, the island has its own unique mosaic of cultural expressions tied to the specifics of its colonial past. Temporal relationships, trading alliances, and local conditions combined to create distinctive sets of material remains and archaeological ruins.3 As Mark Hauser and I have noted elsewhere for the Caribbean region as a whole, historical archaeology in Jamaica has been pursued from a "wide range of theoretical perspectives and thematic interests, but the composite results highlight the importance of understanding the interconnected nature of social relations from multiple scales of analysis" (Armstrong and Hauser 2009:583). Historical archaeology has a long and rich history on the island of Jamaica. This volume presents a sampling of the last several decades of historical archaeological work on Jamaica; while representing much of the best recent work, the contributors to this volume owe many debts to the archaeologists that came before them. In this epilogue, I seek to contextualize the contributions presented in this volume through a review of the history of archaeology on Jamaica.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationOut of Many, one People
Subtitle of host publicationThe Historical Archaeology of Colonial Jamaica
PublisherThe University of Alabama Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9780817356484
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Arts and Humanities


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