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Change and Continuity, Practice and Memory: Native American Persistence in Colonial New England

  • Stephen W. Silliman (a1)
Abstract

The archaeological study of Native Americans during colonial periods in North America has centered largely on assessing the nature of cultural change and continuity through material culture. Although a valuable approach, it has been hindered by focusing too much on the dichotomies of change and continuity, rather than on their interrelationship, by relying on uncritical cultural categories of artifacts and by not recognizing the role of practice and memory in identity and cultural persistence. Ongoing archaeological research on the Eastern Pequot reservation in Connecticut, which was created in 1683 and has been inhabited continuously since then by Eastern Pequot community members, permits a different view of the nature of change and continuity. Three reservation sites spanning the period between ca. 1740 and 1840 accentuate the scale and temporality of social memory and the relationships between practice and materiality. Although the reservation sites show change when compared to the "precontact baseline," they show remarkable continuity during the reservation period. The resulting interpretation provides not only more grounded and appropriately scaled renderings of past cultural practices but also critical engagements with analytical categories that carry significant political weight well outside of archaeological circles.

Résumé

El estudio arqueológico de comunidades indígenas durante distintos periodos coloniales en Norte America se ha centrado principalmente en evaluar la naturaleza del cambio cultural y la continuidad a través de la cultura material. A pesar de su valor, estos acercamientos han sido obstruídos por los enfoques excesivos en la dicotomia de cambio y continuidad en vez de en el entendimiento de su interrerlación. Esto se debe por depender en categorias acríticas sobre los artefactos, y no reconer el rol de la práctica y la memoria en la indentidad y la perpetuación de la cultura. Estudios arqueológicos en la reservación de Eastern Pequot en Connecticut, creada en 1683 y habitada desde entonces por los miembros de la misma comunidad, han permitido ver la naturaleza del cambio y la continuidad de este grupo desde punto de vista alterno. Tres diferentes sitios arqueológicos localizados en la reservación y con periodos de población entre 1740 y 1840 acentúan la escala y temporalidad de la memoria social y la relación entre la práctica y la materialidad. A persar de que estos sitios de la reservación muestran cambios al ser comparados con el período precontacto ("precontact baseline"), estos también muestran una notable continuidad durante el período de la reservación. El resultado de ésta interpretación no solo provee una representación más apropiada y arraigada en las prácticas culturales pasadas, sino que también provee un compromiso crítico con categorias analíticas llenas de sentido político que se extienden y tiene repercusiones fuera de los círculos arqueológicos.

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