Art of a lost culture documented in the Caribbean

Archaeologists who set out to document the rock art left by European colonists and Native American people within the cave system on the Puerto Rican island Mona, have uncovered pre-Hispanic rockart dating back to the 14th century Taino culture.

Animal motifs on the cave celling (by University of Leicester)

Thousands of drawings and etchings were discovered by a team of researchers of the University of Leicester, the British Museum, the British Geological Survey and Cambridge University who spent last three years documenting the rockart in the interior of the the island’s 30 cave systems. The art depicting human figures, animals, and abstract designs includes paintings, drawings, as well as images created in the soft rock using fingertips. The researchers believe the Mona Island was inhabited by Caribbean’s early colonizers from around 3000 BC. According to the study, most of the precolonial pictographs are in very narrow spaces deep in the caves, some are very hard to access.

Freshwater found in the cave (by University of Leicester)

The research has revealed that the art discovered so far dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. The paintings were made with bat excrement which had over many decades absorbed naturally-occurring yellow, brown and red minerals from the cave floors. It is believed that the caves were absolutely central to Taino religion and society, as caves in their mythology were where the first humans came from, and also were places where the sun and the moon were originally born.

Strange symbol on the cave wall (by University of Leicester)

The Taino were the very first major New World culture that Columbus interacted with. Before the Spanish conquest there were, throughout the Caribbean, well over one million Tainos, organised in dozens of mini-states, ruled by chieftains. Scientific analyses from the team have provided the first dates for rock art in the Caribbean proving some of the images are pre-Columbian, while some were created by the European colonists and in the later decades were covered again by new Taino images. More than 100 caves have yet to be explored.

Animal rockart in the cave (by University of Leicester)

(after Independent, Smithsonian & University of Leicester)

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