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On a desert island in the Caribbean, a treasure of Pre-Columbian cave art

An image of a man rubbed in Mona Island cave wall at least 500 years ago.

(University of Leicester / Alice Samson)

Imagine a social networking site that is older is not only the internet, but even a European presence in south America. That is how the researchers from the University of Leicester describing the discoveries they have made, after three years of excursions deep into the narrow caverns of a deserted island in the Caribbean.

The caves are on the island of “Mona” between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, contain thousands of never-before-seen posts, the researchers said. And these indigenous spiritual work of art gave the scientists a new insight into pre-Columbian life on Mona Island.

“For the millions of indigenous peoples in the Caribbean before European arrival, caves represented portals in a spiritual world,” Jago Cooper, an archaeologist from the British Museum who worked on the study, said in a press release. “So, these new discoveries … [capture] the essence of [the artists’] belief systems and the building blocks of their cultural identity.” [See photos of Mona Island of the Cave Art]

To analyze the cave drawings, you archaeologists took X-rays and used carbon dating. They were surprised to find that all of the works of art discovered in approximately 70 winding caves dates back to before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in America. Indeed, a number of the works of art that have been discovered it was considered, much more recent, such as cave art of the pre-Columbian time would be expected to be void or vague more than it was, according to the new findings, published online Oct. 27 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

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“Conservation may be unusual because they are relatively stable environments,” Stephen Houston, an archaeologist and anthropologist, who serves as the director of Early Cultures at Brown University, told Science. “There are big problems that have to do with the nonobvious cultural choices that they made,” says Houston, who are not working on the investigation. He explained that often the indigenous population would be the obvious choice for their cave pigmentation. In his study of the cave art made by Maya, he found that they would mix the charcoal from their torches with water and call it a day. But according to this new research, specific plants and other organic materials were in the caves of Mona Island, specifically to the new paint.

In fact, people must return back to the caves to add new work of art in the course of the 13th to 15th century, according to the study. The researchers noted that the indigenous population of the Island of Mona believed that the sun and moon emerged from under the ground, so exploring deep in the vast network of underground caves was a very spiritual act.

Many of the drawings on the cave walls, some of which depict religious and ceremonial symbols — animals, faces wearing headdresses, and different designs dotted the walls of the cave were made using simple techniques, such as rubbing or scraping the rocky walls. Because the walls of the cave were covered with a softer surface to rubbing or abrasion to the surface brought a different colored mineral under.

Other pictures in the caves were made with advanced paint that varied on the basis of the unique components of each cave, according to the research.

This paint contained varying levels of charcoal, bat droppings, plant gums, various minerals such as iron and plant material of native trees such as Bursera simaruba, also known as the turpentine tree. The researchers concluded that the paintings were probably prepared in advance, and then charcoal from the torches were likely to be added to works of art then.

“Most of the precolonial icons are in very tight spaces deep in the caves, some are very hard to find, you must crawl to get to them, they are very comprehensive and the humidity is very high, but it is very worth it,” Victor Serrano, an archaeology phd candidate at the University of Leicester who worked on the study, said in a statement.

As the indigenous population of Mona Island were wiped out by European invaders, physical and cultural analysis of the new cave paintings are a way that people can learn about what they were and how they lived. Because the art in the Mona caves are so well preserved, researchers can gain new insights into the lifestyle of a lost culture. But because the Spaniards were so thoroughly suppressed the culture of the indigenous Taino people, this will be difficult to do, Houston said.

“You would have other records” in order to understand why the Taino chose to use certain ingredients, Houston said. “You should know about local beliefs and practices related to that plant. There are descendants of these people, the Taino, but the Spanish were very thorough in getting rid of their local beliefs.”

For example, Houston pointed out another research of Cooper that find different Spanish names and religious expressions in some of the caves on the Island of Mona. While it is unclear whether the Christian theology was added to what were clearly the spiritual spheres, to the Taino, it would have been to suppress the local culture, creating a hybrid, or even just a form of graffiti after the Spaniards learned about the decorated caves.

Original article on Live Science.

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