Late prehistoric economy and society of the islands off the coast of Venezuela : a contextual interpretation of the non-ceramic evidence
Archaeologists have portrayed north-central Venezuela as the seat of the Valencioid 'chiefdom' (a.d. 900-1500) and assumed socio-cultural continuity between the Valencioid culture and the historic Caraca Indians. These assumptions have neither been constructed nor tested on socially meaningful archaeological contexts. My research formulates and tests the cognitive value of the non-ceramic evidence recovered from socially meaningful archaeological contexts on the islands of the Central Coast of Venezuela as sources for understanding the developmental trajectory of the Valencioid polity(ies). The data come from archaeological surveys and excavations on 55 offshore islands and at 47 sites. Through horizontal excavation, off-site control units and statistical control over sample size it is established that the economic purpose for the occupation of a large Valencioid campsite at Dos Mosquises Island (a.d. 1400-1500) was primarily to exploit Conch Shell (Strombus gigas) for food and raw material. Other local resources, such as fishes, lobsters, turtles and birds, were complementary. The conceptual polarity food/artefact, often applied to the archaeofaunal analyses, is replaced by contextual discrimination between food, non-food remains and natural objects, which leads to inferences on social group composition, labour division, specialisation, differential access to food and the exportation of shell raw material outside the islands. The results of the contextual analyses of allochthonous mammal and special purpose artefacts indicate the presence of prominent members of the society (chief, shaman and/or warriors) and the ceremonial character of the core locus at the Dos Mosquises site. It is suggested that the organisation of the insular enterprise is most likely controlled from this core locus. From a macro-regional perspective, the resulting analyses challenge the notion of a 600 yearlong unilinear evolution toward social complexity of the Valencioid polity. The previous view of a straightforward, hegemonic character of this polity is replaced by perspective of recurrent long and short-term changes in the nature and intensity of regional interactions between several polities. These interactions were based on a changing multilateral negotiations of power through trade, co-operativev entures,r esourcee xploitation, intermarriage,c eremonial assistancew, arfare and peace. The purported continuity between the insular Valencioids and the Caraca Indians is not supported by the archaeological data.