The colonial impact on the Mariana Islands (17th-18th centuries) through virtual archaeology: change and identity




3D model, reduction, latte, Guam, colonial church, 3D reconstruction


Virtual archaeology has become increasingly relevant recently. However, different historical scopes still need to be looked at under this specialization. This paper focuses on one of them: the Mariana Islands, an archipelago located in the Pacific Ocean, crucial in the relations between America and the Philippines during early Spanish colonialism. On the one hand, the project has dealt with pre-Hispanic structures (10th-16th centuries), and, on the other hand, it has focused on the strategies of colonial settlement (17th-18th centuries). The 3D recreation of these two contexts has allowed us to rethink different human processes associated with the transition from pre-colonial structures to modernity. The hypothesis that buildings were not only the reflection of specific social dynamics, but also places which participated in them, firmly suggests that a particular type of identity and a gender-system existed thanks to architecture.
Starting in the 16th century, the Society of Jesus became one of the cultural engines in the expansion of the Hispanic Crown throughout the Atlantic and Pacific. In these regions, the ecclesiastics established the community model called "reductions", places controlled by the colonial system where the transculturation of the native populations took place. This was done through teaching in schools and churches, but also from the very structuring of spaces and homes within the settlements. However, this work has dealt with a major problem: the lack of information about reductions in the Mariana Islands. Focusing on this question, the development of settlement patterns had to be studied. The analysis included not only written and archaeological records, but also parallels in Latin America. Since these processes have been framed in what is currently known as the “first globalization”, it is expected that different cases in different parts of the world would be connected, and this study seems to confirm it.
Methodologically, a study on each building has been carried out. Likewise, how these buildings would be related to each other has also been a fundamental aspect to be analyzed. This has allowed the research team to reconstruct them through specialized software (Blender), taking into account the sources’ veracity scale. Finally, buildings have been analyzed according to their historical context. This analysis has been structured around how the historical subjects perceived the environments in which they lived. In this way, the role that the idea of rationality played in these processes has been highlighted, giving a new meaning to the different social values apprehension.
Two models were developed thanks to the technical work. The first one corresponds to a “latte” structure (Fig. 14), part of the prehistoric period of the islands (specifically, in its last phase 10th-16th centuries). The second one shows a model of “reduction” from the reconstruction of the San Dionisio church (Umatac, Guam) and the houses that are expected to accompany it (Fig. 15). By interpreting these spaces there is evidence to admit that the introduction of the "urbanism" concept during the Jesuit phase completely transformed the settlement patterns. The worldview of the study subjects changed because so did the way they structured their world. In this way, daily life became marked by rationality, hierarchy, the nuclear family, and a progressive individualization of identity.
Certain limitations or biases of the study must be identified. On the one hand, the lack of information about the “reductions” has already been mentioned, but it is also necessary to consider the reliability of those available. The consulted engravings present a high degree of idealization, which has made it difficult to differentiate what was real and what was an author license. On the other hand, until more excavations are carried out, the compatibility of the Latin American parallels with those of the Marianas Islands will not be unequivocally verified. In any case, the authors believe that the contribution of this article has a broader meaning: it deals with general dynamics that, in principle, should not be altered by small changes in the morphologies of the buildings studied.
To conclude, by creating 3D models, the authors have contributed to a better understanding of a series of social dynamics that had not been fleshed out until now. For the first time, a virtual archaeology proposal has been made on what the “reductions” on the islands would be like. This has allowed the research team to analyze the impact they had on the prehistoric populations that previously lived there. In this way, it has been verified that space organization formed, by itself, an element of transculturation that transformed the worldview of its populations, giving new meaning to social identity, gender roles, hierarchical models, and the idea of family.


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How to Cite

Berrocal-Maya, L. (2023). The colonial impact on the Mariana Islands (17th-18th centuries) through virtual archaeology: change and identity. Virtual Archaeology Review, 14(29), 68–83.