[Documents menu] Documents menu
Date: Sat, 6 Mar 1999 01:16:01 -0400
Sender: Taino-L Taino interest forum <TAINO-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU>
Subject: TAINO-L Digest - 3 Mar 1999 to 5 Mar 1999 (#1999-25)

From: Alien1157@aol.com
To: Starwork1@aol.com, Boriken@aol.com
Subject: (no subject)
Date: Fri, 5 Mar 1999 19:25:28 EST

Before Columbus Destroyed almost overnight by Spanish invaders, the culture of the gentle Taino is finally coming to light

By Michael D. Lemonick, in Archaeology,
Vol. 152, no. 16, 19 October 1998

It took no time at all for the native Americans who first greeted Christopher Columbus to be all but erased from the face of the earth. For about a thousand years the peaceful people known as the Taino had thrived in modern-day Cuba, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and many other islands in the Lesser and Greater Antilles. But less than 30 years after Columbus' three ocean-crossing ships dropped anchor off the island of Hispaniola, the Taino would be destroyed by Spanish weaponry, forced labor and European diseases. Unlike their distant cousins, the Inca, Aztecs and Maya, the Taino left no pyramids or temples--no obvious signs that they had ever existed. Just about all that remains of their culture is the handful of Taino words that survive in modern English, including barbecue, canoe, hammock, hurricane and tobacco.

But it is a mistake to assume--as many scholars have until quite recently--that the absence of abundant artifacts meant the Taino were necessarily more primitive than the grander civilizations of Central and South America. They simply used less durable materials: the Taino relied on wood for building and most craftwork, and much of what they made has disintegrated over the centuries. However, thanks largely to two remarkable digs undertaken over the past two years, archaeologists are dramatically enriching their knowledge of the complex society of the Taino and the sophistication of their artifacts.

The first site, a Taino village on the northern coast of Cuba now known as Los Buchillones, has been protected from decay in a layer of clay at the bottom of a shallow lagoon. Last May a Canadian-Cuban team discovered the nearly intact remains of a Taino dwelling buried in the muck. It has since located the foundation of as many as 40 structures, most likely a combination of communal buildings, outbuildings and single-family houses. The site is so extensive, says David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, that "there's no doubt that a regional chief would have been based there. It may have been one of the Taino's major centers."

Meanwhile, deep in the forests of the Dominican Republic, at a site known as La Aleta, a U.S.-Dominican team has made what may be an even more important discovery: a 240-ft.-deep Taino cenote, or ceremonial well, where hundreds of objects thrown in as offerings have been preserved in the oxygen-poor water. Preliminary explorations of the surrounding forest suggest that the well was just one component of a ceremonial center that covered at least 10 acres.

Impressive as they are, these two sites are only a fraction of what archaeologists believe remains to be found. La Aleta, for example, was part of the chiefdom of Higuey, one of the Taino's richest, most populous and politically powerful territories. "What other sites were connected with it?" wonders Indiana University archaeologist Geoffrey Conrad. "What did the environment look like 500 years ago? I have a list of questions that I'll never live to see answered." Other scholars will come along to fill in the gaps, though. And even if it takes another century to understand the Taino fully, they have already been rescued from the ignoble status of footnotes in the chapter of history that began with the arrival of Columbus.

[World History Archives]     [Gateway to World History]     [Images from World History]     [Hartford Web Publishing]