Archaeologists have unearthed long-lost art from a civilization that once inhabited the Caribbean.
Known as the Tainos, these people once lived on the island of Mona, Puerto Rico – now an uninhabited nature reserve – in the 14th century, before the arrival of Columbus. Now gone, thousands of pieces of Taino art have since been found in caves on the island, offering a fascinating glimpse into their culture.
The research has been led by the universities of Leicester and Cambridge, the British Museum, and the Centre for Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico. A paper describing some of the findings is available in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The art so far comes from 70 caves on the island, with dozens left to explore. The images show animal and human faces, along with a number of abstract patterns.
“Most of the precolonial pictographs are in very narrow spaces deep in the caves, some are very hard to access, you have to crawl to get to them, they are very extensive and humidity is very high but it is extremely rewarding,” said Victor Serrano, a member of the student team at the University of Leicester, in a statement.
“Imagine a social networking site, where instead of having a page with posts of people here you have an actual cave wall or roof full of different pictographs.”
This paper details the team’s findings from 2013 to 2016, undertaking fieldwork that was funded by National Geographic. Carbon and uranium-thorium dating were used to narrow down the date of the cave art. The dating methods place the art at up to 800 years old, in the 14th and 15th centuries.
There were a number of methods used to paint on the walls. The more primitive, notes The Independent, is that the Tainos dragged their fingers along the walls, a removing a layer of calcite to expose lighter rock.
Another method involved using bat excrement, which had turned yellow, brown, and red from minerals absorbed from the cave floor. Some plant resin is evident in the paint too, helping it stick to the walls, while others simply used charcoal.
The Tainos were ultimately wiped out by disease, famine, and war as a result of Spanish colonization. These paintings, however, give us a fascinating insight into this extinct civilization.
“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,” said Dr Jago Cooper from the British Museum in the statement.