Skip to main content
  • Print publication year: 2000
  • Online publication date: March 2008

V.D.3 - The Caribbean, Including Northern South America and Lowland Central America: Early History

from V.D - The History and Culture of Food and Drink in the Americas
The study of prehistoric diet and nutrition in the Caribbean is a relatively recent phenomenon. Lucayan diet can be described as consisting of inputs from five general sources: cultivated roots and tubers, maize, terrestrial animals, marine fishes, and marine mollusks. This chapter describes three diets which are proposed on the basis of data gathered from ethnographic analogy, ethnohistoric reports, ethnobiological analyses, and formal economic models. The carbon isotopes confirm the presence of three distinct diets. One explanation for these differences is that they represent changes in diet breadth through time. The arrival of the Spanish brought dramatic changes to the circum-Caribbean. The Garifuna, often referred to as Black Caribs, presently occupy the coast of Central America from Belize to Nicaragua. The best-known item in the Island Carib diet is human flesh. Caribbean diets were strongly influenced by the diffusion of domesticated plants and animals.
Recommend this book

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.

The Cambridge World History of Food
  • Online ISBN: 9781139058643
  • Book DOI:
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to *
Alegría, R. E. 1983. Ball courts and ceremonial plazas in the West Indies. New Haven, Conn.
Allaire, L. 1984. A reconstruction of early historical Island Carib pottery. Southeastern Archaeology 3.
Ambrose, S. H. 1987. Chemical and isotopic techniques of diet reconstruction in eastern North America. In Emergent horticultural economies of the eastern woodlands, ed. Keegan, W. F.. Carbondale, Ill.
Ambrose, S. H. 1993. Isotopic analysis: Methodological and interpretive considerations. In Elemental and isotopic analyses: Understanding diet and diseases in past populations, ed. Sanford, M. K.. London.
Ambrose, S. H., and Norr, L.. 1993. Relationship of carbon isotope ratios of dietary protein and energy to those of bone collagen and apatite. Paper presented at the 58th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, St. Louis, Mo.
Aveni, A. F., and Urton, G., eds. 1982. Ethnoastronomy and archaeoastronomy in the American tropics. New York.
Bell, J. A. 1992. Universalization in archaeological explanation. In Metaarchaeology: Reflections by archaeologists and philosophers, ed. Embree, L.. Boston, Mass.
Boucher, P. P. 1992. Cannibal encounters: Europeans and Island Caribs, 1492–1763. Baltimore, Md.
Brierley, J. S. 1985. West Indian kitchen gardens: A historical perspective with current insights from Grenada. Food and Nutrition Bulletin 7.
Budinoff, Linda C. 1987. An osteological analysis of the human burials recovered from Maisabel: An early ceramic site on the north coast of Puerto Rico. Paper presented at the Twelfth International Congress for Caribbean Archaeology, Cayenne, French Guyana.
Butt, Audrey J. 1977. Land use and social organization of tropical forest peoples of the Guianas. In Human ecology in the tropics, ed. Garlick, J. P. and Keay, R. W. J.. London.
Campbell, David G. 1978. The ephemeral islands. London.
Carbone, V. A. 1980a. Some problems in cultural paleoecology in the Caribbean Area. Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress for the Study of the Pre-Columbian Cultures of the Lesser Antilles. Tempe, Ariz.
Carbone, V. A. 1980b. The paleoecology of the Caribbean area. Florida Anthropologist 33.
Castellanos, R. 1981. La plaza de Chacuey, un instrumento astronomico megalitico. Boletin del Museo del Hombre Dominicano 16.
Chanlatte Baik, L. A., and Storde, Y. M. Narganes. 1990. La nueva arqueologia de Puerto Rico (su proyección en las Antillas). Santo Domingo.
Clough, Garrett C. 1972. Biology of the Bahamian hutia, Geocapromys ingrahami. Journal of Mammology 53.
Cohen, Mark Nathan, and Armelagos, George. 1984. Paleopathology at the origins of agriculture. New York.
Conklin, Harold S. 1968. An ethnoecological approach to shifting agriculture. In Man in adaptation: The cultural present, ed. Cohen, Y. A.. Chicago.
Craton, M., and Saunders, G.. 1992. Islanders in the stream. Athens.
Craton, Michael. 1978. Searching for the invisible man. Cambridge.
Crosby, Alfred W. 1972. The Columbian exchange. Westport, Conn.
Crosby, Alfred W. 1986. Ecological imperialism. Cambridge.
Davidson, William V. 1974. Historical geography of the Bay Islands, Honduras. Birmingham, Ala.
Davis, D. D., and Goodwin, R. C.. 1990. Island Carib origins: Evidence and non-evidence. American Antiquity 54.
Davis, Dave D. 1974. Some notes concerning the Archaic occupation of Antigua. Proceedings of the Fifth International Congress for the study of the Pre-Columbian Cultures of the Lesser Antilles. Antigua.
Davis, Dave D. 1988. Coastal biogeography and human subsistence: Examples from the West Indies. Archaeology of Eastern North America 16.
Deagan, Kathleen. 1988. The archaeology of the Spanish contact period in the Caribbean. Journal of World Prehistory 2.
deFrance, S. D., Keegan, W. F., and Newsom, L. A.. 1996. The archaeobotanical, bone isotope, and zooarchaeological records from Caribbean sites in comparative perspective. In Case studies in environmental archaeology, ed. Reitz, E. J., Newsom, L. A., and Scudder, S. J.. New York.
deFrance, Susan D. 1989. Saladoid and Ostinoid subsistence adaptions: Zooarchaeological data from coastal occupation on Puerto Rico. In Early ceramic population lifeways and adaptive strategies in the Caribbean, ed. Siegel, P., BAR International Series 506. Oxford.
deFrance, Susan D. 1991. Zooarchaeological research on Lucayan Taino subsistence: Crooked Island, Bahamas. Florida Museum of Natural History. Gainesville.
Doran, Edwin Jr. 1958. The Caicos conch trade. The Geographical Review 48.
Eisenberg, John F. 1989. Mammals of the neotropics: The northern neotropics, Vol. 1: Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana. Chicago.
Ewen, Charles R. 1990. The rise and fall of Puerto Real. In Columbian consequences, Vol. 2: Archaeological and historical perspectives on the Spanish borderlands east, ed. Thomas, D. H.. Washington, D.C.
Ewen, Charles R. 1991. From Spaniard to Creole: The archaeology of cultural formation at Puerto Real, Haiti. Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Fandrich, Judith. 1990. Subsistence at Pearls, Grenada, W.I. (A.D. 200). In Miscellaneous project report number 44, Florida Museum of Natural History. Gainesville.
Farquharson, Charles. 1831–2. A relic of slavery: Farquharson’s journal for 1831–32. Copied from the original by McDonald, O. J., 1957. Nassau, Bahamas.
Fewkes, J. W. 1907. The aborigines of Puerto Rico and neighboring islands. Twenty-fifth annual report of the U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, 1903–1904. Washington, D.C.
Ford, Richard I. 1984. Prehistoric phytogeography of economic plants in Latin America. In Pre-Columbian plant migration, ed. Stone, D., Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 76. Cambridge, Mass.
Ford, Richard I. 1985. Prehistoric food production in North America. Ann Arbor, Mich.
Fortuna, Luis. 1978. Analisis polinico de Sanate Abajo. Boletin del Museo del Hombre Dominicano 10.
García-Arevalo, Manuel. 1990. Transculturation in contact period and contemporary Hispaniola. In Columbian consequences, Vol. 2: Archaeological and historical perspectives on the Spanish borderlands east, ed. Thomas, D. H.. Washington, D.C.
Garn, Stanley M. 1979. The noneconomic nature of eating people. American Anthropologist 81.
Gifford, Charles A. 1962. Some observations on the general biology of the land crab, Cardisoma guanhumi (Latreille) in South Florida. Biological Bulletin 123.
Gonzélez, Nancie L. 1988. Sojourners of the Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and ethnohistory of the Garifuna. Urbana, Ill.
Goodwin, R. C. 1978. The Lesser Antilles archaic: New data from St. Kitts. Journal of the Virgin Islands Archaeological Society 5.
Goodwin, R. C. 1980. Demographic change and the crab-shell dichotomy. Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress for the study of the Pre-Columbian cultures of the Lesser Antilles. Tempe, Ariz.
Grimé, William E. 1979. Ethno-botany of the Black Americans. Algonac, Mich.
Guarch, J. M. 1974. Ensayo de reconstrucción ethnohistórica del Taino de Cuba. Havana.
Handler, J. S. 1971. The history of arrowroot and the origin of peasantries in the British West Indies. Journal of Caribbean History 2.
Handler, J. S., Aufderheide, A. C., Corruccini, R. S., et al. 1986. Lead contact and poisoning in Barbados slaves: Historical, chemical, and biological evidence. Social Science History 10.
Handler, J. S., and Lange, F. W.. 1978. Plantation slavery in Barbados. Cambridge.
Harner, Michael. 1977. The ecological basis for Aztec sacrifice. American Ethnologist 4.
Harris, David R. 1965. Plants, animals and man in the outer Leeward Island, West Indies: An ecological study of Antigua, Barbuda, and Anguilla. Berkeley, Calif.
Haviser, J. B. Jr. 1989. Preliminary results of test excavations at the Hope Estate Site (SM-026), St. Martin. Proceedings of the Eleventh International Congress for Caribbean Archaeology, eds. Ayubi, E. N. and Haviser, J. B., Curaçao.
Haviser, J. B. Jr. 1991. Development of a prehistoric interaction sphere in the northern Lesser Antilles. New West Indian Guide 65.
Hesse, R. C., and Hesse, K. O.. 1977. The conch industry in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Underwater Naturalist 10.
Hulme, P., and Whitehead, N. L.. 1992. Wild majesty: Encounters with Caribs from Columbus to the present day. Oxford.
Iverson, J. B. 1979. Behavior and ecology of the rock iguana, Cyclura carinata. Bulletin of the Florida State Museum 24.
Jackson, J. B. C. 1972. The ecology of the mollusks of Thalassia communities, Jamaica, West Indies. II. Molluscan population variability along an environmental stress gradient. Marine Biology 14.
Jackson, J. B. C. 1973. The ecology of the mollusks of Thalassia communities, Jamaica, West Indies. I. Distribution, environmental physiology, and ecology of common shallow-water species. Bulletin of Marine Science 23.
Johannes, R. E. 1981. Words of the lagoon. Berkeley, Calif.
Johnson, A., and Baksh, M.. 1987. Ecological and structural influences on the proportions of wild foods in the diets of two Machiguenga communities. In Food and evolution, ed. Harris, M. and Ross, E. B.. Philadelphia, Pa.
Johnson, Allen. 1983. Machiguenga gardens. In Adaptive responses of Native Amazonians, ed. Hames, R. B. and Vickers, W. T.. New York.
Jones, Alick R. 1985. Diet change and human population at Indian Creek, Antigua. American Antiquity 50.
Keegan, W. F. 1982. Lucayan cave burials from the Bahamas. Journal of New World Archaeology 5.
Keegan, W. F. 1986a. The optimal foraging analysis of horticultural production. American Anthropologist 88.
Keegan, W. F. 1986b. The ecology of Lucayan Arawak fishing practices. American Antiquity 51.
Keegan, W. F. 1987. Diffusion of maize from South America: The Antillean connection reconstructed. In Emergent horticultural economies of the eastern woodlands, ed. Keegan, W. F.. Carbondale, Ill.
Keegan, W. F. 1989a. Creating the Guanahatabey (Ciboney): The modern genesis of an extinct culture. Antiquity 63.
Keegan, W. F. 1989b. Transition from a terrestrial to a maritime economy: A new view of the crab/shell dichotomy. In Early ceramic population lifeways and adaptive strategies in the Caribbean, ed. Siegel, P., BAR International Series 506. Oxford.
Keegan, W. F. 1989c. Stable isotope analysis of prehistoric diet. In Reconstruction of life from the skeleton, ed. Iscan, M. Y. and Kennedy, K. A. R.. New York.
Keegan, W. F. 1992. The people who discovered Columbus: An introduction to the prehistory of the Bahamas. Gainesville, Fla.
Keegan, W. F. 1994. West Indian archaeology. 1. Overview and foragers. Journal of Archaeological Research 2.
Keegan, W. F. 1995. Modeling dispersal in the prehistoric West Indies. World Archaeology 26.
Keegan, W. F. 1996. West Indian archaeology. 2. After Columbus. Journal of Archaeological Research 4.
Keegan, W. F., and DeNiro, M. J.. 1988. Stable carbon- and nitrogen-isotope ratios of bone collagen used to study coral-reef and terrestrial components of prehistoric Bahamian diet. American Antiquity 53.
Keegan, W. F., and Diamond, J. M.. 1987. Colonization of islands by humans: A biogeographical perspective. In Advances in archaeological method and theory, Vol. 10, ed. Schiffer, M. B.. San Diego.
Keegan, W., Porter, C. M., Silk, N., Stern, W. L., et al. 1992. New World harvest: A teacher’s manual. Gainesville, Fla.
Kimber, C. T. 1988. Martinique revisited: The changing plant geographies of a West Indian island. College Station, Tex.
Kirby, I. E., and Martin, C. I.. 1972. The rise and fall of the Black Caribs of St. Vincent. St. Vincent.
Kirch, P. V. 1982. The ecology of marine exploitation in prehistoric Hawaii. Human Ecology 10.
Klinken, G. J.. 1991. Dating and dietary reconstruction by isotopic analysis of amino acids in fossil bone collagen – with special reference to the Caribbean. Publications of the Foundation for Scientific Research in the Caribbean Region No. 128. Amsterdam.
Lathrap, D. W. 1977. Our father the cayman, our mother the gourd: Spinden revisited, or a unitary model for the emergence of agriculture in the New World. In Origins of agriculture, ed. Reed, C. A.. The Hague.
Lathrap, D. W. 1987. The introduction of maize in prehistoric eastern North America: The view from Amazonia and the Santa Elena Peninsula. In Emergent horticultural economies of the eastern woodlands, ed. Keegan, W. F.. Carbondale, Ill.
Linares, Olga. 1976. “Garden hunting” in the American tropics. Human Ecology 4.
Loven, S. 1935. Origins of the Tainan culture, West Indies. Göteborg, Sweden.
Malinowski, Bronislaw. [1935]1978. Coral gardens and their magic. New York.
McKillop, Heather I. 1985. Prehistoric exploitation of the manatee in the Maya and circum-Caribbean areas. World Archaeology 16.
McKinnen, Daniel. 1804. Tour through the British West Indies, in the years 1802 and 1803 giving a particular account of the Bahama Islands. London.
Meehan, Betty. 1977. Man does not live by calories alone: The role of shellfish in a coastal cuisine. In Sunda and Sahul, ed. Allen, J., Golsen, J. and Jones, R.. New York.
Merwe, Nikolaas J., Roosevelt, Anna Cartenius, and Vogel, J. C.. 1981. Isotopic evidence for prehistoric subsistence change at Parmana, Venezuela. Nature 292.
Mintz, Sidney W. 1985. Sweetness and power. New York.
Morgan, Gary S., and Woods, Charles A.. 1986. Extinction and the zoogeography of West Indian land mammals. Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society 28.
Moscoso, Francisco. 1986. Tribu y Clase en el Caribe Antiquo. Dominican Republic.
Myers, Robert A. 1984. Island Carib cannibalism. Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 158.
Nadal, Joaquin E. 1981. El caimito, el copey y los chronistas. Boletin del Museo del Hombre Dominicano 16.
Nietschmann, Bernard. 1973. Between land and water: The subsistence ecology of the Miskito Indians, eastern Nicaragua. London.
Olsen, Storrs. 1982. Biological archaeology in the West Indies. The Florida Anthropologist 35.
Oviedo, Gonzalo Fernández. [1526]1959. Natural history of the West Indies, ed. and trans. Stoudemire, S. A.. Chapel Hill, N.C.
Pearsall, D. M. 1985. Analysis of soil phytoliths and botanical macroremains from El Bronce archaeological site, Ponce, Puerto Rico. Appendix B in Archaeological data recovery at El Bronce, Puerto Rico. Final report, phase 2, ed. Robinson, L. S., Lundberg, E. R., and Walker, J. B.. Jacksonville, Fla.
Piperno, D. R., Bush, M. B., and Colinvaux, P. A.. 1990. Paleoenvironments and human occupation in late-glacial Panama. Quaternary Research 33.
Reitz, Elizabeth J. 1986. Vertebrate fauna from locus 39, Puerto Real, Haiti. Journal of Field Archaeology 13.
Reitz, Elizabeth J. 1988. Impact of animals introduced to the New World: The case of Puerto Real, Haiti. Paper presented at Rethinking the Encounter: New Perspectives on the Conquest and Colonization. Gainesville, Fla.
Riley, Sandra. 1983. Homeward bound. Miami.
Roosevelt, Anna C. 1980. Parmana: Prehistoric maize and manioc subsistence along the Amazon and Orinoco. New York.
Rose, Richard. 1982. The Pigeon Creek site, San Salvador, Bahamas. The Florida Anthropologist 35.
Rouse, I., and Alegría, R. E.. 1990. Excavations at Maria de la Cruz Cave and Hacienda Grande Village site, Loiza, Puerto Rico. Yale University Publications in Anthropology No. 80. New Haven, Conn.
Rouse, I., and Allaire, L.. 1978. Caribbean. In Chronologies in new world archaeology, ed. Taylor, R. E. and Meighan, C.. New York.
Rouse, Irving. 1948. The West Indies. In Handbook of South American Indians, Vol. 4, The circum-Caribbean tribes, ed. Steward, J. H.. Washington, D.C.
Rouse, Irving. 1986. Migrations in prehistory: Inferring population movements from cultural remains. New Haven, Conn.
Rouse, Irving. 1989a. Peopling and repeopling of the West Indies. In Biogeography of the West Indies, past, present and future, ed. Woods, C. A.. Gainesville, Fla.
Rouse, Irving. 1989b. Peoples and cultures of the Saladoid frontier in the Greater Antilles. In Early ceramic population lifeways and adaptive strategies in the Caribbean, ed. Siegel, P. E., BAR International Series No. 506. Oxford.
Rouse, Irving. 1992. The Tainos. New Haven, Conn.
Ruddle, Kenneth. 1974. The Yupka cultivation system: A study of shifting cultivation in Colombia and Venezuela. Ibero-Americana No. 52. Los Angeles.
Sanoja Obediente, Mario and Vargas, Iraida. 1983. New light on the prehistory of eastern Venezuela. Advances in World Archaeology 2.
Sauer, Carl O. 1966. The early Spanish main. Berkeley, Calif.
Saunders, D. Gail. 1985. Slavery in the Bahamas, 1648–1838. Nassau.
Scarry, C. Margaret, and Reitz, Elizabeth J.. 1990. Herbs, fish, scum, and vermin: Subsistence strategies in sixteenthcentury Spanish Florida. In Columbian consequences, Vol. 2, Archaeological and historical perspectives on the Spanish borderlands east, ed. Thomas, D. H.. Washington, D.C.
Schoeninger, M. J., and DeNiro, M. J.. 1984. Nitrogen and carbon isotopic composition of bone collagen from marine and terrestrial animals. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 48.
Schoeninger, M. J., DeNiro, M. J., and Tauber, H.. 1983. Stable nitrogen isotope ratios of bone collagen reflect marine and terrestrial components of prehistoric human diet. Science 220.
Schoeninger, M. J., Noore, K. M., Murray, M. L., and Kingston, J. D.. 1989. Detection of bone preservation in archaeological and fossil samples. Applied Geochemistry 4.
Schultes, R. E. 1984. Amazonian cultigens and their northward and westward migration in pre-Columbian times. In Pre-Columbian plant migration, ed. Stone, D., Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 76.
Sealey, J. C. 1986. Stable carbon isotopes and prehistoric diets in the south-western Cape Province, South Africa. Cambridge Monographs in African Prehistory. Cambridge.
Sears, William H., and Sullivan, Shaun D.. 1978. American Antiquity 43.
Siegel, Peter E. 1991. Migration research in Saladoid archaeology: A review. The Florida Anthropologist 44.
Sillen, A., Sealey, J. C., and Merwe, N. J.. 1989. Chemistry and paleodietary research: No more easy answers. American Antiquity 54.
Smith, Eric Alden. 1983. Anthropological applications of optimal foraging theory: A critical review. Current Anthropology 24.
Smith, Eric Alden, and Winterhalder, Bruce. 1992. Evolutionary ecology and human behavior. New York.
Steadman, D. W., Watters, D. R., Reitz, E. J., and Pregill, G. K.. 1984. Vertebrates from archaeological sites on Montserrat, West Indies. Annals of the Carnegie Museum 53.
Stokes, A. V. 1995. Understanding prehistoric subsistence in the West Indies using stable isotope analysis. In Proceedings of the 15th International Congress for Caribbean Archaeology, ed. Alegría, R. and Rodríguez, M.. San Juan.
Sturtevant, William C. 1961. Taino agriculture. Anthropologica Supplement No. 2.
Sturtevant, William C. 1969. History and ethnography of some West Indian starches. In The domestication and exploitation of plants and animals, ed. Ucko, P. J. and Dimbleby, G. W.. Chicago.
Taylor, Douglas. 1977. Languages of the West Indies. Baltimore, Md.
Vaquer, Jean et al. 1986. Gisement chasséen de la fosse de La Toronde à Cavanac (Aude). Gallia préhistoire 29. Paris.
Veloz Maggiolo, Marcio. 1976. Medioambiente y adaptacion humana en la prehistoria de Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo.
Veloz Maggiolo, Marcio, and Vega., Bernardo 1982. The Antillean preceramic: A new approximation. Journal of New World Archaeology 5.
Veloz Maggiolo, Marcio. 1971–72. Las Antillas precolombinas ecología y población. Revista dominicana de arqueologia y antropologia 2. Santo Domingo.
Watters, D. R., Reitz, E. J., Steadman, D. W., and Pregill, G. K.. 1984. Vertebrates from archaeological sites on Barbuda, West Indies. Annals of the Carnegie Museum 53.
Watters, David R. 1982. Relating oceanography to Antillean archaeology: Implications from Oceania. Journal of New World Archaeology 5.
Watts, David. 1987. The West Indies: Patterns of development, culture and environmental change since 1492. Cambridge.
Wilson, Samuel M. 1990. Hispaniola: The chiefdoms of the Caribbean in the early years of European contact. Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Wing, Elizabeth S. 1969. Vertebrate remains excavated from San Salvador Island, Bahamas. Journal of Caribbean Science 9.
Wing, Elizabeth S. 1989. Human exploitation of animal resources in the Caribbean. In Biogeography of the West Indies, ed. Woods, C. A.. Gainesville, Fla.
Wing, Elizabeth S., and Brown, A. B.. 1979. Paleonutrition. New York.
Wing, Elizabeth S., and Reitz, Elizabeth J.. 1982. Prehistoric fishing communities of the Caribbean. Journal of New World Archaeology 5.
Wing, Elizabeth S., and Scudder, Sylvia J.. 1980. Use of animals by prehistoric inhabitants of St. Kitts, West Indies. Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress for the Study of the Pre-Columbian cultures of the Lesser Antilles. Tempe, Ariz.
Wing, Elizabeth S., and Scudder, Sylvia J.. 1983. Animal exploitation by prehistoric people living on a tropical marine edge. In Animals and archaeology. 2. Shell middens, fishes and birds, eds. Grigson, C. and Clutton-Brock, J., BAR International Series No. 183. Oxford.
Winterhalder, B., and Smith, E. A., eds. 1981. Hunter-gatherer foraging strategies. Chicago.
Zucchi, A., and Denevan, W. M.. 1979. Campos elevados a historia cultural prehispanica en los llanos occidentales de Venzuela. Caracas.
Zucchi, A., Tarble, K., and Vaz., J. E. 1984. The ceramic sequence and new TL and C14 dates for the Aguerito site of the Middle Orinoco. Journal of Field Archaeology 11.