Chapter ID: CBB132369297

Rancherías: Historical Archaeology of Early Colonial Campsites on Margarita and Coche Islands, Venezuela (2019)


In the early 16th century, the islands of Margarita, Coche and Cubagua lay at the core of the so-called ‘Coast of Pearls’ in northeastern Venezuela. Cubagua hosted Nueva Cádiz, one of the earliest Spanish towns in South America, since 1528. Despite such precocious credentials, the understanding of early colonial realities on these islands has almost entirely relied on documentary sources with only a small contribution from archaeology. Excavations were carried out in Nueva Cádiz in the late 1950s, but the recovered materials were never studied comprehensively. The archaeological record of Margarita is largely outdated and unsystematic while Coche has never been surveyed archaeologically. Drawing from multiple sources of data, this paper sheds new light on the earliest colonial settlements established on these islands, referred to as rancherías, and on the nature of the intercultural dynamics that took place there. We analyze data obtained from recent archaeological surveys on Margarita and Coche, study museum collections of materials recovered in the 1950s, and draw from the database of the Venezuelan Islands Archaeology project. We analyze the ecology of the pearl oyster and finally compile documentary information. Specific sites on Margarita and Coche which yielded abundant 16th-century Spanish and other European ceramics, Amerindian pottery, and possibly intercultural hybrids, are discussed here. The contemporaneity of the Nueva Cádiz hub and the location of these campsites, close to the large pearl oyster beds, have been firmly established. These data reveal the beginnings of the early Spanish town of Nueva Cádiz and underscore the role of pearls and other material culture in the early colonial endeavors in northeastern Venezuela.

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Authors & Contributors
Corinne L. Hofman
Keehnen, Floris W.M.
Joyce, Rosemary A.
Kelly J. Dixon
Franz Scaramelli
Shannon Dugan Iverson
International Journal of Historical Archaeology
Historical Archaeology
IA. The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology
Journal of Jesuit Studies
University of New Mexico Press
Sidestone Press
Historical archaeology
Cross-cultural interaction; cultural influence
Material culture
Spain, colonies
Indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples; indigeneity
Time Periods
16th century
17th century
15th century
18th century
14th century
19th century
Central Europe
Florida (U.S.)
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

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