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Costly Giving, Giving Guaizas

Costly Giving, Giving Guaizas

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Published by Sidestone Press
Costly Giving, Giving Guaízas deals with the exchange of social valuables in the later part of the Late Ceramic Age of the Greater and Lesser Antilles (AD 1000/1100-1492). Questions concerning this exchange will be framed in a novel mix of theories - such as Costly Signalling Theory coupled with the paradox of keeping-while-giving and the notion of gene/culture co-evolution joined with Complex Adaptive System theory.
Costly Giving, Giving Guaízas deals with the exchange of social valuables in the later part of the Late Ceramic Age of the Greater and Lesser Antilles (AD 1000/1100-1492). Questions concerning this exchange will be framed in a novel mix of theories - such as Costly Signalling Theory coupled with the paradox of keeping-while-giving and the notion of gene/culture co-evolution joined with Complex Adaptive System theory.

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Published by: Sidestone Press on Aug 24, 2011
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05/26/2015

Before turning to archaeological contexts within the Caribbean islands I feel
that in light of recent investigations that highlight possible relations of yet
undetermined nature between the Caribbean islands and the areas skirting the
Caribbean Sea (Harlow et al. 2007; Keegan and Rodríguez Ramos 2004,
Rodríguez Ramos 2007) it is necessary to address the possibility to investigate
these relations by looking at a possible mainland distribution of guaízas or
guaíza-like artefacts or iconographic motifs.
First of all it would be an interesting development when the Caribbean islands
could loose their status as a “dead end street” of interaction and regain a more
central position within a “Caribbean-Mediterranean interaction sphere”.
However, wishful thinking does not lead to scientific arguments. When proof
for this claim is looked for following the line of the guaízas it is evident that on
the Caribbean mainland there are lots of artefacts of very high social value that
could be compared to the guaíza. For instance, in the Maya area one can find
certain face-carrying artefacts, called bib’ heads. These small heads of precious
jade, which is a highly valued material that had to be acquired through long
distance exchange (Quilter and Hoopes 2003), were one of the regalia of Maya
elites – as seen on a stele from Palenque (Martin and Grube 2000: 161).
Interestingly, Lovén, when talking about masks in the Greater Antilles, already
connects these to masks and headdresses worn by the Maya elite (Lovén 1935).
In addition, gold faces with wide opened eyes and mouth showing canine teeth
found in the Sacred Cenote in Chichen Itzá look a lot like guaízas. Actually
guaíza style faces, although most of the time as part of a figurine, are found all
across the Central American area. Alternatively, even in present-day indigenous

Chapter 6: The Distribution of Shell Faces and its Interpretation

120

communities of the South American mainland face-depicting objects can be
found that remind very much of guaíza iconography.
Nonetheless, the prevalence of these motifs actually confirms nothing
at all. Sensibly speaking the depiction of the human face on amulets or similar
items is such a universal practice that, even when one would find a face that
has a similarly looking form and iconography, this does not substantiate any
claims of relationship. It is only in the case of such a large corpus of artefacts
as is the case with the guaízas on the Caribbean islands that any inferences can
be drawn. This is not to say that looking at the iconography of similar face-
depicting artefacts on the mainland will remain fruitless no matter what future
developments might bring, since there are a lot of possibilities that are marred
at this moment. Shell does not preserve as well on the mainland as on the
islands and shell on the mainland is also an understudied material. Still, we
need many more lines of evidence than guaíza iconography if we are to argue
for mainland relations or influences.

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