A Fine Head and Small Eyes: Isotopic Investigation of Prehistoric Faunal Introductions in the West Indies
Recent studies of exotic animal translocations in the prehistoric West Indies provide new analytical foundations for evaluating human colonization and interaction with the continental Americas. However, they leave unresolved important questions about the source, population viability, and environmental impact of non-native species, as well as the potential for active management of introduced animal populations by Amerindians. These issues are fundamental to understanding the cultural and ecological significance of faunal translocations in the region, particularly the long-term impact of exotic species on Antillean ecosystems. I review zooarchaeological, ethnohistorical, and ecological records to evaluate the anthropogenic dispersal, cultural role, and environmental impact of exotic species in the prehistoric West Indies, focusing on two species widely distributed in the Lesser Antilles: the agouti (Dasyprocta leporina) and the opossum (Didelphis marsupialis). I present the results of recent 87Sr/86Sr and 20nPb/204Pb analyses of agouti and opossum translocations, coupled with efforts to map bioavailable isotopes in the region. These data establish important baselines for West Indian human-environment interaction. Results also identify sample integrity issues that impact the reliability of Pb isotope analyses with methodological significance for paleomobility studies in general. Multi-evidentiary approaches at the island scale are required to disentangle the complexities of human activity and environmental history in the West Indian translocation record.
About the Presenter
Dr. Giovas (PhD, University of Washington) is a Lecturer in Archaeology with the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland. A zooarchaeologist specializing in the human paleoecology of island and coastal settings, her research addresses prehistoric foraging, anthropogenic environmental impacts, and population movement. Currently she is using stable isotope analyses to investigate the introduction of South American animals into the West Indies during the Pre-Columbian era. She is Associate Editor of the Journal of Anthropological Research, Book Review Editor for the Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology and serves as a Board Director for the International Association of Caribbean Archaeology.