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Idols in exile. making sense of prehistoric human pottery figurines from Dos Mosquises Island, Los Roques archipelago, Venezuela

Mackowiak de Antczak, MM; (2000) Idols in exile. making sense of prehistoric human pottery figurines from Dos Mosquises Island, Los Roques archipelago, Venezuela. Doctoral thesis , University of London. Green open access

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Abstract

This dissertation examines the `social reality' of the prehistoric figurines recovered on the tiny coral island of Dos Mosquises, located off the Venezuelan coast. There, over three hundred figurine specimens altogether with numerous other items of material culture were recovered by the author during systematic excavations. The site was interpreted as a temporary camp where Queen Conch (Strombus gigas), turtle, fish, birds and salt were processed/consumed, between ad. 1300 and 1500. The vast majority of the artefacts, including figurines, were not local products, but related to the Valencia culture from the north-central Venezuela mainland. In South America and the Caribbean, prehistoric figurines are traditionally approached as objects of ancient art or cult, or as typological devices. I reject both the a priori assumptions of figurine meaning/function that neglect the particular socio-historical contexts of their creation/use, and the epiphenomenological approach to these artefacts. Drawing from Social Theory, Material Culture Studies, Contextual Archaeology, Sociology of Knowledge and some traditional procedures of artefact analysis, I generate an `integrative' approach that combines analyses of the form (the object and its image), context (archaeological and social) and content (subject matter and signifying practice). In the analytical framework used in this dissertation, the figurine is regarded not as a mute product of a past culture, but as an `actor' that participated in the negotiation of complex social strategies in late prehistoric north Venezuela. The fact that the island figurines were produced on the mainland has direct influence on the structure of this research, demanding analysis of all available mainland material and its contexts. In consequence, `bricks' for the construction of the social reality of the Dos Mosquises figurines have been sought on the mainland. I interpret mainland specimens as metaphors of the social control of elder women over their younger female kin, as a strategy used in alliance building. The (re)constructed social context of the Dos Mosquises site suggests that it was largely occupied by adult and adolescent males. The confrontation of the archaeological and social contexts, types and images of mainland and island specimens, resulted in the disclosure of the polyvalent, context-dependent roles of the Valencioid figurines. Some of the island specimens indicate use in ritual activities and as burial furniture. Their social roles were essential to sustaining everyday life at the DM site by suppressing the threats of supernatural powers related to the marine environment and its creatures. Although specific interpretations are discussed in this study, its primary contribution lies rather in the methods developed to address questions regarding the social reality of prehistoric figurines. The emphasis is put on systematic and controlled ways of working `between or around data and theory', so that diverse sources of data can be put together to explore the meaningful connections that may link them within the overall humanistic approach. It is anticipated that the open-ended nature of this research will indicate paths for further inquiry and stimulate future research on the figurines and other material culture in north-central Venezuela.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Idols in exile. making sense of prehistoric human pottery figurines from Dos Mosquises Island, Los Roques archipelago, Venezuela
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by British Library EThOS. Some images and the original pages 201 to 231 of Volume 2 have been excluded due to third party copyright.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1360345
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