Real, Recent, or Replica: Precolumbian Caribbean Heritage as Art, Commodity, and Inspiration

Real, Recent, or Replica: Precolumbian Caribbean Heritage as Art, Commodity, and Inspiration (University of Alabama Press, 2021) is a new volume edited by Joanna Ostapkowicz and Jonathan A. Hanna. It examines the largely unexplored topics in Caribbean archaeology of looting of heritage sites, fraudulent artifacts, and illicit trade of archaeological materials. Describing the book, Neil Brodie (coeditor of Illicit Antiquities: The Theft of Culture and the Extinction of Archaeology) writes, “An unprecedented exploration of the furtive practices of collecting, faking, and looting as they entangle the scholarly study of Caribbean archaeology and ethnohistory. Local in focus but global in impact, the book has much to teach us about the consequences and unintended consequences of public policy’s embrace of cultural heritage.”

Description: Real, Recent, or Replica: Precolumbian Caribbean Heritage as Art, Commodity, and Inspiration is the first book-length study of its kind to highlight the increasing commodification of Caribbean Precolumbian heritage. Amerindian art, including “Taíno” art, has become highly coveted by collectors, spurring a prolific and increasingly sophisticated black market of forgeries, but also contemporary artistic engagement, openly appreciated as modern artworks taking inspiration from the past. The contributors to this volume contend with difficult subject matter including the continued looting of archaeological sites in the region, the seismic increase of forgeries, and the imbalance of power and economic relations between the producers and consumers of neo-Amerindian art.
The case studies document the considerable time depth of forgeries in the region (since the late nineteenth century), address the policies put in place by Caribbean governments and institutions to safeguard national patrimony, and explore the impact looted and forged artifacts have on how museums and institutions collect and ultimately represent the Caribbean past to their audiences. Overall, the volume emphasizes the continued desire for the “authentic” Precolumbian artifact, no matter the cost. It provides insights for archaeologists, museum professionals, art historians, and collectors to combat illegal trade and support communities in creating sustainable heritage industries.

Joanna Ostapkowicz is research associate in Caribbean archaeology at the University of Oxford. She is coeditor of Iconography and Wetsite Archaeology of Florida’s Watery Realms.
Jonathan A. Hanna is curator at the Grenada National Museum in St. George’s. His research focuses mainly on geoarchaeology and ancient human behavioral ecology in Grenada.

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