Recent news of the research undergone by the British Museum and the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research (with collaboration from the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture)—see previous post New Discoveries of Cave Art in the Caribbean]—has sparked a flurry of reactions from literary scholars, historians, archeologists and other scientists, artists, and the general public (especially through the Facebook page of Lilliana Ramos-Collado, which by now, has received hundreds of comments debating the issue).
Everyone is balking at the use of the word “discovery” in the article “New Discoveries of Cave Art in the Caribbean,” since cave art and vestiges of Arawak culture are topics that have been studied in depth by archeologists in Puerto Rico through many decades, focusing on Mona Island as well as many other sites on the main island.
For example, Ovidio Dávila Dávila published his book Arqueología de la Isla de La Mona (Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 2003) after years of extensive study. This book was later translated by Laura Hardy Jendi and published as The Archaeology of Mona Island (Universidad de Puerto Rico, 2005). Dávila’s work has been cited extensively in Puerto Rico; for instance, Víctor Manuel Nieves in his book Mona, una leyenda entre el mar y el sol [Mona: A Legend between the Sea and the Sun (2012)] dedicates an entire chapter to this topic, citing Dávila’s work. Many others, such as Dr. Jennie T. Ramírez (“Isla de Mona: Ejemplo de un ecosistema aislado”) have quoted Dávila’s research.
As Nieves points out, there has been a tradition of over 200 years of studying the archeology of the island, including its abundant examples of cave art. Therefore, he states, it is not a case of neglect on the part of Puerto Rican scientists. Nevertheless, the lack of knowledge about this research is alarming. Dávila himself was surprised to meet a student completing his Master’s degree thesis, who came to ask for help but was completely unaware of his published research. If this is the case in Puerto Rico, he says, how can we expect scholars from Great Britain to be aware?
Dávila has written extensively on related themes. His work includes Cueva Los Gemelos: un yacimiento precerámico de Morovis, Puerto Rico; “El poblamiento aborigen precerámico en las Antillas;” “Importancia arqueológica de la Cueva del Indio, Arecibo, Puerto Rico;” and “El desarrollo histórico-cultural del poblamiento prehispánico de la Isla de la Mona;” among others. I can only surmise that one reason (and what has been my pet peeve through the years) is that, today, some researchers do not go out of their way to read scholarship published in languages other than their own.
Another reason for the lack of information (and publicity on local findings) may be financial. It is a pity that archeological studies in Puerto Rico have often been endangered due to a lack of funds to dedicate (and at times, a lack of attention) to valuable cultural treasures that must be preserved. As recently as June 3, 2013, Maritza Díaz Alcaide (Primerahora) decried the demise of the Council of Subaquatic Archaeology and the Council of Land Archaeology, both under the auspices of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, because of a lack of funding, leaving lead archeologist Juan Vera jobless since July 1, 2013.
Since the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture—which is collaborating with the British Museum and the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, published Arqueología de la Isla de La Mona and other works on pre-Colombian art, cave drawings, and related subjects—we are all hoping that they will point these institutions in the right direction so that they will recognize the corpus of work produced by archeologists on the island on these “discoveries.”
In the meantime, they may want to check out Lilliana Ramos-Collado’s wall for more postings on local research and publications!
See article by Maritza Díaz Alcaide at http://www.primerahora.com/noticias/puerto-rico/nota/peligraelpatrimonioarqueologicodelaisla-934552/
See video about Víctor Manuel Nieves’ book here (thanks to Lilliana Ramos-Collado who shared this information): http://www.telemundopr.com/telenoticias/videos/Conoce-los-misterios-de-la-isla-de-Mona-157602035.html