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This paper focuses on the material study (radiocarbon dating, wood identification and strontium isotope analyses) of four large ‘India occidentali’ clubs, part of the founding collections of the Ashmolean Museum, in Oxford, and originally part of John Tradescant’s ‘Ark’, in Lambeth (1656). During the seventeenth century, the term ‘India occidentali/occidentales’ referred not only to the ‘West Indies’ (its literal translation), but to the Americas as a whole; hence, the Ashmolean clubs and, indeed, the c forty examples of similarly large, decorated clubs known in international museum collections had no firm provenance and lacked even the most basic information. Previous attempts at attribution, based on stylistic comparisons with nineteenth- to twentieth-century Brazilian and Guyanese clubs, have proved inconclusive given the unique features of this club style, raising the intriguing possibility that these may be exceptionally rare examples of ‘Island Carib’ (Kalinago) material culture, particularly as images of such clubs appear in seventeenth-century ethnographic accounts from the Lesser Antilles. This paper provides new data for these poorly known objects from early collections, revealing not only the type of wood from which they were carved (Platymiscium sp. and Brosimum cf guianense) and their probable dates of manufacture (cAD 1300–1640), but also their possible provenance (strontium results are consistent with a possible range from Trinidad south to French Guiana).
Since the mid-19th century, rare prehistoric wooden carvings and human skeletal remains have been dredged from Pitch Lake, Trinidad, during commercial asphalt mining. Establishing a chronology for these objects is challenging, due to both a lack of stratigraphic and contextual information and the necessity to completely remove any pitch to ensure accurate radiocarbon (14C) dates. A range of solvent extraction protocols was tested to identify the most suitable one for pretreating the Pitch Lake artifacts, and then applied to ten wooden objects and a human cranium recovered from the lake. Several of these objects yielded earlier dates than expected, raising concerns that pitch had remained after pretreatment and had affected the dates. Pyrolysis-GC/MS and optical microscopy techniques were applied to material from the human cranium, a weaving tool, and a small bowl. These techniques, as well as routinely applied laboratory quality assurance procedures, indicated that there was no residual pitch within the cranium or the weaving tool after pretreatment, giving confidence to the dates. However, the small bowl was observed to still be contaminated with pitch after extensive pretreatment, indicating that the date is too old and can only be considered as a terminus post quem.
The Pigorini cemí is an icon of Caribbean colonial history, reflecting early trans-Atlantic cross-cultural exchanges. Although well documented, the piece has received surprisingly little systematic study. We present the first structural analysis and radiocarbon dating of the sculpture (modelled at AD 1492–1524), and a brief discussion of the materials from which it is comprised. These include indigenous shell and European glass beads, newly identified feather and hair fibres, and the enigmatic rhinoceros-horn mask carved as a human face. We also address the sculpture's hidden internal wooden base, which is shown to be a non-indigenous display mount made of European willow (Salix sp.).
Remains of a Holocene drowned forest in southern Lake Huron discovered in 12.5 m of water (164 m above sea level), 4.5 km east of Lexington, Michigan USA (Sanilac site), provided wood to investigate environment and lake history using several proxies. Macrofossil evidence indicates a forest comprised primarily of conifers equivalent to the modern “rich conifer swamp” community, despite generally low regional abundance of these species in pollen records. Ages range from 7095 ± 50 to 6420 ± 70 14C yr BP, but the clustering of stump dates and the development of 2 floating tree-ring chronologies suggest a briefer forest interval of no more than c. 400 years. Dendrochronological analysis indicates an environment with high inter-annual climate variability. Stable-carbon isotope composition falls within the range of modern trees from this region, but the stable-oxygen composition is consistent with warmer conditions than today. Both our tree-ring and isotope data provide support for a warmer environment in this region, consistent with a mid-Holocene thermal maximum. This drowned forest also provides a dated elevation in the Nipissing transgression at about 6420 14C yr BP (7350 cal yr BP) in the southern Lake Huron basin, a few hundred years before reopening of the St. Clair River drainage.
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