Puerto Rico – Researchers have found that the Puerto Rican Isla de Mona (Mona Island) was guarding the best diversity of preserved indigenous iconography in the Caribbean within its caves. The tiny island is just 49.2 square kilometers in the area is brimming with about 200 caves.
Since 2013, the team, led by Dr. Alice Samson from the University of Leicester and Dr. Jago Cooper from the British Museum has been studying 70 of these cave systems. The study published Tuesday in the journal Antique shows the cave being discussed in the paper has more than 30 historic inscriptions, which include phrases in Latin and Spanish, named individuals, dates, and Christian symbols.
“Increasing use of interdisciplinary approaches and archaeometrist’s analyses have provided new understandings of colonial processes that are more nuanced than mere oppression, domination and, in the case of the Caribbean, indigenous extinction,” Dr. Alice Samson from the University of Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History stated.
The fact that the caves are the island’s only permanent sources of fresh water might explain why their walls were chosen as a canvas for the paintings. The art was put on the cave walls by dragging fingernails through the soft limestone surface of the cave, and it shows two distinctive forms of expression. Indigenous people painted lines, swirls, animal-like creatures and ancestral beings, reflecting their spirituals beliefs.
On the other hand, Christian crosses, phrases such as “Plura fecit deus” (“God made many things”), “Dios te perdone” (“may God forgive you”) and “verbum caro factum est” (“and the Word was made flesh”) and graffiti-style names and dates, belonged to Europeans, that carved them into the rock with sharp-edged tools.
Dr. Jago Cooper, Curator of the Americas at the British Museum in London received a grant from the National Geographic Society to continue his work on the caves. As of now, thousand of motifs and designs have been carefully cataloged.
The researchers used C14 dating of torches that were used to illuminate the dark spaces, styles of iconography and associated pottery to find that most arts were pre-Hispanic, some from as early as the 12th century. They also found that the graffiti-like scratches were mostly from the mid-16th century. It is probably that these European visitors came from the Spanish strongholds of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola.
“What we’re seeing here is a dichotomy between two very different sets of art […] the later set is definitely drawn by Europeans who are having a reaction to, and a dialog with, the indigenous art,” Dr. Cooper declared.
The mix of the European and native paintings coupled with the lack of images showing conflict suggest the encounters were done peacefully. Most importantly, the cave is very hard to access. The researchers explained that could only be reached by climbing a cliff face and squeezing through a “human-sized entrance,” with means the Europeans must have gotten help from the indigenous people to find the painting chamber.
Since this cave would have been hard to access (today, it can be reached by climbing a cliff face and squeezing through a “human-sized entrance,” as the researchers explained), it suggests Europeans could have gotten there only with the help of indigenous people.
Archaeologists found indigenous and European art in the caves of Mona Islandhttps://t.co/mXfMpfnTCK
— National Geographic (@NatGeo) July 19, 2016
Sources: National Geographic