Monday 20 November, 2017

Mysterious Amerindian cave art found on tiny Caribbean island

Photo: Mona Island

Photo: Mona Island

Scientists have made a groundbreaking discovery after finding mysterious cave drawings on Mona Island, a tiny island near Puerto Rico.

According to a Guardian report, researchers have found evidence of religious Taíno cave drawings in caves on Mona Island, a 57 square kilometre (22 square mile) uninhabited island slightly west of Puerto Rico, also known as the 'Galapagos of the Caribbean'.

A team of researchers led by the British Museum and the University of Leicester said the art shows a mix of Latin inscriptions and Taíno spiritual drawings, showing an intermingling of European and Amerindian cultures. 

“It is truly extraordinary,” said Jago Cooper, the British Museum curator who, with the University of Leicester’s Alice Samson, led the research team. “It is proof that the first generation of Europeans were going into caves and being exposed to an indigenous world view."

"For the millions of indigenous peoples living in the Caribbean before European arrival, caves represented portals into a spiritual realm, and therefore these new discoveries of the artists at work within them captures, the essence of their belief systems and the building blocks of their cultural identity."

"I can’t think of another site like this in the Americas.”

Since 2013, the Anglo-Puerto Rican team have been exploring about 70 cave systems on the uninhabited island, a place visited and claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1494.

The island, 40 miles (66km) west of Puerto Rico, is one of the most cavernous regions in the world.

The report said scientists discovered 16th-century European markings, including Christograms - letters used as an abbreviation for Jesus Christ - and religious sentences in Latin.

For the Amerindian people, caves bear a spiritual significance and these cave systems would have been very sacred sites. Caves are significant features of Taíno religion and mythology, with the Sun and Moon emerging from underground.

 

Samson said the first colonisers would have been led to these sites by the Taíno people on the island, and would have responded with respect, engaging in religious dialogue and adding their Christian prayer symbols and writings to the Amerindian tribe's religious art. 

“We have this idea of when the first Europeans came to the New World of them imposing a very rigid Christianity. We know a lot about the inquisition in Mexico and Peru and the burning of libraries and the persecution of indigenous religions."

“What we are seeing in this Caribbean cave is something different. This is not zealous missionaries coming with their burning crosses, they are people engaging with a new spiritual realm and we get individual responses in the cave and it is not automatically erasure, it is engagement," Samson said. 

Sampson said the research, published on Tuesday in the archaeological journal Antiquity, shone new light on the early colonisers and painted a more nuanced picture.

“This not only provides a counterpoint to official metropolitan histories but also tracks the beginnings of new religious engagements and transforming cultural identities in the Americas," Samson said. 

The Taíno introduced the world to foods like sweet potato, corn, and pineapple. Their words – such as hurricane, canoe, and tobacco – live on in modern languages.

The research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Mona Island's sea caves are some of the largest, most extensive and most unusual in the world. Access to the island is gained solely by private aeroplane or boat. 

Mona Island is a natural reserve managed by the government of Puerto Rico. In 1975, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior designated Mona as a National Natural Landmark.

Such distinctions are given to landscapes that preserve a significant biological or geological feature. Mona Island has both.