Visual connections between Caribbean islands (open access publication)

Today our paper on visual connections between Caribbean islands is published open access in print in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. It combines a wide range of different visibility analysis methods, both quantitative and qualitative, to explore the visual properties of Eastern Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. When does the island become visible when approaching it from the sea by Canoe? From what areas in the sea is it most visible? From what areas on land can canoes at sea be best observed? Are settlements located on good vantage points? Can other settlements be observed from these settlements?

We propose a hypothesis of the visual structuring of past island communities in the Lesser Antilles: short-distance visibility networks represent the structuring of navigation and communication within landmasses, whereas the landmasses themselves served as focal points for regional navigation and interaction. Can’t wait for people to engage critically with this hypothesis. Here is a figure by Mereke van Garderen and myself describing our hypothesis:

brughmans-etal-guadeloupe-fig11

This paper presents a study of the visual properties of natural and Amerindian cultural landscapes in late pre-colonial East-Guadeloupe and of how these visual properties affected social interactions. Through a review of descriptive and formal visibility studies in Caribbean archaeology, it reveals that the ability of visual properties to affect past human behaviour is frequently evoked but the more complex of these hypotheses are rarely studied formally. To explore such complex hypotheses, the current study applies a range of techniques: total viewsheds, cumulative viewsheds, visual neighbourhood configurations and visibility networks. Experiments were performed to explore the control of seascapes, the functioning of hypothetical smoke signalling networks, the correlation of these visual properties with stylistic similarities of material culture found at sites and the change of visual properties over time. The results of these experiments suggest that only few sites in Eastern Guadeloupe are located in areas that are particularly suitable to visually control possible sea routes for short- and long-distance exchange; that visual control over sea areas was not a factor of importance for the existence of micro-style areas; that during the early phase of the Late Ceramic Age networks per landmass are connected and dense and that they incorporate all sites, a structure that would allow hypothetical smoke signalling networks; and that the visual properties of locations of the late sites Morne Souffleur and Morne Cybèle-1 were not ideal for defensive purposes. These results led us to propose a multi-scalar hypothesis for how lines of sight between settlements in the Lesser Antilles could have structured past human behaviour: short-distance visibility networks represent the structuring of navigation and communication within landmasses, whereas the landmasses themselves served as focal points for regional navigation and interaction. We conclude by emphasising that since our archaeological theories about visual properties usually take a multi-scalar landscape perspective, there is a need for this perspective to be reflected in our formal visibility methods as is made possible by the methods used in this paper.

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