Froelich Rainey

Froelich Rainey

Archaeologist and ethnologist from the United States. He was one of the pioneers of archaeology in the Caribbean. He identified two different indigenous groups in Puerto Rico: the crab culture and the conch culture.

Rainey came to the Caribbean region for the purpose of conducting research as part of projects by the Peabody Museum Anthropology Division’s Caribbean Program at Yale, which was then directed by ethnologist Cornelius Osgood. In 1934, he joined a group of biologists from Harvard University to conduct studies in the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Based on that experience, Rainey began working to improve trench excavation techniques to allow greater control of stratification and the cultural changes it revealed.

Later, in the 1930s, Rainey came to Puerto Rico to begin new archaeological research on the island’s coasts, although he also made brief excursions into the mountainous interior. For two months, he conducted excavations at the Canas (Ponce), Coto (Isabela) and Monserrate (Luquillo) sites. As a result of his work, which was done in collaboration with the Museum of American Natural History, the University of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture, he produced data that was used in his doctoral thesis, titled Puerto Rican Archaeology.

His research work in Puerto Rico was of great importance because he was able to postulate the existence of two cultures, which he identified as the Crab Culture and the Conch Culture, based on changes in diet and materials that he observed through comparative analysis of the stratigraphic sequences. He observed marked differences between the sites. In the oldest one, crabs were part of the diet. Its fine pottery was decorated with painting. At another site, conch was a main source of food and the pottery was coarsely painted. These observations formed the evidence for identifying two different pottery-making cultures on the island, representing two subsequent migrations from northeastern South America.

Rainey spent a relatively short amount of time in the Caribbean. He later conducted extensive excavations at the Diale site in Haiti and in 1935 he accepted a position at the University of Alaska, where he conducted important ethnological and archaeological research. After fighting in World War II, he returned to the northeastern United States to direct the University of Pennsylvania Museum, which was under his leadership for three decades.

After being absent from the Caribbean for decades, he made a brief return to conduct excavations, along with José Ortiz Aguilú, at the Bois Neuf site in Haiti, where he identified stratigraphic contexts of archaic and pottery-making societies.

In the middle of the 20th century, he brought his great insight to a television program called What in the World, which remained on the air for 15 years on the CBS network. On the show, he invited distinguished researchers to identify artifacts. He also served as president of the American Association of Museums and the International Anthropology Congress.

Author: Reniel Rodríguez Ramos
Published: April 12, 2012.

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