Archaeologist and anthropologist, Harrington established the existence of two Caribbean cultures: the Taino and the Ciboney.
Harrington was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on July 6, 1882. He studied at Columbia University under the direction of Franz Boas, one of the leaders in the historical particularism school of thought. In 1908, he earned his masters degree in anthropology from Columbia.
He worked in collecting indigenous objects and ethnographic data in the East and Midwest parts of the United States. From 1911 to 1915, he served as assistant curator of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. From 1915 to 1919, he continued the archaeological work begun in Cuba by Teodoro de Booy for the PeabodyMuseum at Harvard University. He worked in the extreme eastern part of the island and certain parts of the west. The results of his research were published in the book Cuba before Columbus (1921), in which he described several highly valuable archaeological collections and documented the characteristics and locations of numerous sites. The work established the existence of two cultures, the Taino and the Ciboney, whose correlation was precisely established for the first time. He took the term Taino from events that occurred on Hispaniola and supported their extension to Cuba through the similarities between the groups on the two islands that were noted by the Europeans. The reports by Friar Bartolomé de Las Casas about a late migration from Hispaniola to Cuba also were presented to support the idea.
Harrington described the Ciboney as a pre-agricultural and pre-pottery making culture that used rudimentary tools based on shells and stones. In contrast, he noted that the Taino culture consisted of sedentary agricultural communities and that it was the dominant group in the Greater Antilles, different from the Caribs of the Lesser Antilles. He proposed that the Tainos came from South America and were linguistically tied to the Arawaks.
This work is vitally important because it organized the information out of Cuba and popularized the term Taino. It offers an archaeological model of a dichotomous indigenous world based on cultural material that was extended to other parts of the Antilles.
After finishing his research in Cuba, he moved to the United States, where he studied archaeological sites in Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Nevada, and Texas. In 1925, he discovered ancient structures related to the Pueblo Indians and their ancestors — the basketmakers — and dedicated much of his research to these cultures. He also served as curator for the SouthwestMuseum in Los Angeles. As part of the National Park Service, he directed the project to save the Pueblo Grande site in Nevada.
He published numerous books and hundreds of articles. His work on the Caribbean was brief but very important, as it framed the beginnings of a systematic archaeological view of the pre-colonial world.
He died in San Fernando, California, on June 30, 1971.
Author: Reniel Rodríguez Ramos
Published: April 12, 2012.
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