Paleoenvironmental evidence for first human colonization of the eastern Caribbean

Peter E. Siegel, John G. Jones, Deborah M. Pearsall, Nicholas P. Dunning, Pat Farrell, Neil A. Duncan, Jason H. Curtis, Sushant K. Singh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Identifying and dating first human colonization of new places is challenging, especially when group sizes were small and material traces of their occupations were ephemeral. Generating reliable reconstructions of human colonization patterns from intact archaeological sites may be difficult to impossible given post-depositional taphonomic processes and in cases of island and coastal locations the inundation of landscapes resulting from post-Pleistocene sea-level rise. Paleoenvironmental reconstruction is proving to be a more reliable method of identifying small-scale human colonization events than archaeological data alone. We demonstrate the method through a sediment-coring project across the Lesser Antilles and southern Caribbean. Paleoenvironmental data were collected informing on the timing of multiple island-colonization events and land-use histories spanning the full range of human occupations in the Caribbean, from the initial forays into the islands through the arrival and eventual domination of the landscapes and indigenous people by Europeans. In some areas, our data complement archaeological, paleoecological, and historical findings from the Lesser Antilles and in others amplify understanding of colonization history. Here, we highlight data relating to the timing and process of initial colonization in the eastern Caribbean. In particular, paleoenvironmental data from Trinidad, Grenada, Martinique, and Marie-Galante (Guadeloupe) provide a basis for revisiting initial colonization models of the Caribbean. We conclude that archaeological programs addressing human occupations dating to the early to mid-Holocene, especially in dynamic coastal settings, should systematically incorporate paleoenvironmental investigations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-295
Number of pages21
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by two grants from the National Science Foundation (Grants BCS-0718819 and BCS-0818372 ) and one grant from the National Geographic Society (Grant 8438-08 ) awarded to Peter Siegel. The Antoinette C. Bigel Endowment fund in the anthropology department at Montclair State University provided support for a student to participate in one round of fieldwork. The Dean's office in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Montclair State University provided a subvention for shipping of field equipment. Several people provided assistance in field logistics and expedited government approvals: the late Peter Harris and late Keith Laurence (Trinidad), Benoît Bérard and Olivier Kayser (Martinique), and Christian Stouvenot and Michel Grandguillotte (Marie-Galante). The School for Advanced Research awarded Siegel a Research Team Short Seminar grant to convene the team in Santa Fe, New Mexico to discuss implications of the research results. Kathryn Carlson from the Department of Geography at the University of Minnesota, Duluth prepared Figs. 1 and 8. Comments from Arie Boomert, Gary Feinman, Christine Hastorf, Samuel Wilson, and journal reviewers substantially improved the paper. A Leiden University Faculty of Archaeology fellowship afforded Siegel the necessary time to concentrate on the paper. Siegel thanks in particular Professor Corinne Hofman, Dean of the Leiden Faculty of Archaeology, for that opportunity.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Caribbean paleoenvironments
  • Human colonization
  • Island historical ecology
  • Modified landscapes


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