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Beings on the Move: Shamanism, Ontologies and Indigenous Imagery between the South American Mainland and the Caribbean Islands


Admission requirements

Admission to the Master Archaeology programme, or equivalent.


Several thousand years ago, indigenous America gave birth to diverse socio-cultural trajectories enduring up to their disruption by Columbus in 1492. Humans and other-than-human beings including animals, plants, material things, and spirits interacted within these trajectories, forming palimpsests consisting of ever-changing landscape features, architectural forms, burials, and artefacts.
The latter category includes imagery, namely depictions of a broad range of ‘beings’, including humans and other-than-human beings, crafted by indigenous artisans in non-perishable and thus archaeologically recoverable materials such as pottery, bone, stone, shell, rock, and bituminous coal.

In this course we aim at identifying the nature, dynamics, and continuities or discontinuities of specific networks of mobility in the circum-Caribbean and Amazonia from a deep-time perspective, with a focus on ideational aspects. Attention will be given to the way in which cosmovision is expressed in this region’s various shamanistic systems and practices.
Drawing from specific case studies it will also be discussed how shamanistic practices have been traced in archaeology through the application of diverse (interdisciplinary) theoretical approaches, methodologies, and cutting-edge techniques.

This course places a special emphasis on indigenous imagery and its involvment in different mainland–islands mobilities, showing the importance of socio-ideational aspects in the exploitation of new environments.

The overarching goal of this course is to discuss how archaeologists reconstruct pre-colonial and early colonial mobility of peoples, materials, and ideas in the Americas, and particularly in the circum-Caribbean and Amazonia, contributing to the development of students’ skills and abilities, and adequate management of specialised literature.

The nature and dynamics of past mobility are among the most significant phenomena studied by archaeologists in the Americas in general, and in the circum-Caribbean and Amazonia in particular.
The overarching premise of this course holds that peoples of the past interrelated to their counterparts not only through direct face-to-face and day-to-day interaction, but also created, maintained, and expanded long-distance networks of exchange of materials and ideas. In return, the very subsistence, worldviews, and identities of the peoples were shaped by these interactions which for millennia involved the indigenous peoples and their material objects and, later, the European and African newcomers.

Substantiating interdisciplinary case studies are drawn from the Caribbean and Amazonian regions.

Course set-up

  • Week 1 - Introduction to the course. Human Mobility and Social Interactions in the archaeology of the Americas/circum-Caribbean-Amazonia;

  • Week 2 - Ontologies on the Move 1: Amazonian Shamanism;

  • Week 3 - Ontologies on the Move 2: Shamanism in the Caribbean Islands;

  • Week 4 - Beings on the Move 1: Human and Non-human Imagery between the Mainland and the Islands (Valencioid case in the Southern Caribbean);

  • Week 5 - Beings on the Move 2: Human and Non-human Imagery between the Mainland and the Islands (Saladoid case in the Lesser Antilles);

  • Week 6 - Exotic Objects on the Move: Pearl and Guanín and early colonial transformations;

  • Week 7 - Student pitch presentations, peer reviews and final discussion.

Specific weekly readings will be provided on Brightspace in due time. Dates and hours for the delivery of discussion points will be established together with the students.

Course objectives

  • Providing knowledge on the overarching topic of mobility of peoples, materials, and ideas in pre-colonial and post-1492 archaeology and explaining current debates on related interaction networks in the Americas/circum-Caribbean-Amazonia;

  • Exercising research skills for in-depth interpretation of archaeological data in terms of socio-economic and, especially, ideational interactions between pre-colonial and early colonial communities (Indigenous, African, and European interactions);

  • Crafting abilities to critically assess current research and literature – the student voices their properly argued opinions;

  • Ability to define research questions and one's own line of inquiry, find relevant literature and orally present the selected topic with audio-visual means, as well as the ability to handle a stimulating discussion afterwards;

  • Ability to write a fluent and critical essay utilising an archaeological body of literature.


Course schedule details can be found in MyTimetable.
Log in with your ULCN account, and add this course using the 'Add timetable' button.

Mode of instruction

7 interactive meetings with presentations by the lecturer and class discussions afterwards (debate about compulsory literature). This, in combination with student presentations, will be enriched by a discussion of current theoretical and methodological topics drawn from recent literature (in part, this will be expressed in weekly posted discussion points on Brightspace, related to the assigned literature).

The multi-focal and multi-vocal course design will result in a more comprehensive overview of the layered concept of mobility in the Americas/circum-Caribbean and Amazonia across 1492.

Assessment method

  • Final essay (ca. 3,000 words) (50%);

  • Writing assignments, one self-reflection and discussion points on literature for each week are to be posted on Brightspace (20%);

  • Active participation:
    1) seminars in small, specialist groups in which equal and active participation in both preparation and discussion is important
    2) 2) constructive comments and exchange of thoughts in Brightspace weekly thematic forums (20%);

  • In-class pitch presentation (subject related to the final essay) and peer review (10%).

A retake is only possible for the final essay and only if all requirements, including attendance, have been met.

Assessment deadlines

All assessment deadlines (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in MyTimetable.
Log in with your ULCN account, and add this course using the 'Add timetable' button. To view the assessment deadline(s), make sure to select the course with a code ending in T and/or R.

Late submission will result in a lowering of the grade (0.5 point per day).

Dates and hours for the delivery of discussion points will be established together with the students.
There will be a weekly assessment of the discussion points and participation in the class discussions and the debates in the Brightspace thematic forums. Additional assessment will be organised to support the development of ideas for the final essay.

Reading list

The reading list associated to lecture themes will be posted on Brightspace.
280 pages of compulsory literature will be announced at a later stage as we aim to include the most recent publications as possible.

Before the first class:
Please note there is compulsory reading before the first week and a small assignment you will find on Brightspace a week before the first meeting.

Compulsory reading before the first meeting:

  • Adams, J. (2014). "Embodied Travel in Search of the Caribbean Self in Tropical Places and Spaces", in: L. Garth, R. Staiff & E. Waterton (Eds.),Travel and Imagination (pp. 25–38). Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.;

  • Dawdy, S. L. (2013). "Afterword: Archaeologies of Movement", in: M. C. Beaudry & T. G. Parno (Eds.), Archaeologies of Mobility and Movement (pp. 257–262). Springer.


Enrolment through MyStudymap is mandatory.

General information about registration can be found on the Course and Exam Enrolment page.


For more information about this course, please contact dr. M.M. (Marlena) Antczak.


Compulsory attendance.