Discoveries in Dominican Caves

Americas (English Edition), March-April 2010 | Go to article overview

Discoveries in Dominican Caves


DEEP IN AN underwater cave in the Dominican Republic, divers are looking for clues about the island's earliest inhabitants. The discovery of stone tools, a small primate skull, and sloth bones--found 28 to 34 feet deep in a cave named Padre Nuestro--has been called a "treasure trove" by researchers in the field of Caribbean archaeology. "I couldn't believe my eyes as I viewed each of these astonishing discoveries underwater," says Charles Becker, project leader and director of Academic Diving and Underwater Science Programs at Indiana University. "The virtually intact extinct faunal skeletons really amazed me, but what may prove to be a fire pit from the first human occupation of the island just seems too good to be true. But now that the lithics are authenticated, I can't wait to direct another underwater expedition into what may become one of the most important prehistoric sites in all the Caribbean."

The stone tools are from the Taino, a pre-Columbian society that lived in the Caribbean on the islands of the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles, and the Lesser Antilles. The Taino organized themselves into regional, district, and village chiefdoms with one principal ruler. Researchers suggest that during the fifteenth century, the Taino were driven from their homes by rival civilizations from South America. They found refuge in the islands of the Caribbean and were the first indigenous population to meet Christopher Columbus in 1492. Researchers estimate that when Columbus arrived on the island of Hispaniola--now Haiti and the Dominican Republic--five Taino chiefdoms called the island home.

"This is, to the best of my knowledge, the only site in the entire Caribbean that has sloths, primates, and early-looking stone tools all in the same place," explains Geoffrey W. Conrad, anthropology professor and director of the Mathers Museum of World Culture at Indiana University. "Right now, it looks like a treasure trove of data to help us sort out the relationship in time between humans and extinct animals in the Greater Antilles. …

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