My thesis investigates the socio-cultural and linguistic development of pre-Columbian Amazonia, with a particular focus on the period between 500 BC and AD 1500. In assembling and analyzing data from archaeology, linguistics, ethnohistory, ethnography, and geography in a Geographical Information System (G.I.S.), it synthesizes large amounts of empirical data from several fields to facilitate long-term, macro-scale reconstructions of pre-Columbian socio-cultural processes in the region. These reconstructions focus on identifying the socio-economic and socio-cultural mechanisms underlying processes of cultural and linguistic expansion and subsequent patterns of ethno-linguistic diversity. The thesis thus addresses long-standing debates on the role of migration, ecology, subsistence strategies, trade, language, and ethnicity in such processes, and offers new explanations of the distribution of language families and ethno-linguistic groups in Amazonia.
The thesis focuses on one of the major linguistic expansions in pre-Columbian South America, that of the Arawak language family. It identifies some of the cultural mechanisms in the interaction between Arawak- and non-Arawak-speaking societies, emphasizing the role of regional integration through long-distance travel and trade. The ambition is to transcend notions of bounded and essentialized ethnic identities that have characterized earlier attempts to account for the spatial distribution of indigenous languages and varieties of material culture. Emphasis is rather on the various factors that have conditioned active processes of ethnic identity construction, and on the methodological possibilities of identifying such conditions and processes at specific points in time and space.
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Last modified 25 Nov 2013