Prehistoric Art in Punta del Este, Cuba


Cuban Art News gives us more information on prehistoric art in Punta del Este, Cuba, on the 80th anniversary of “its second and genuine discovery.” Cuban Art News asked art historian José Ramón Alonso Lorea (researcher and curator in the Department of Research and Curation at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes) to speak about this type of cave art.

Recently Prensa Latina reported on the discovery of designs carved into the walls of a cave in the Sierra Maestra. The discovery of these petroglyphs piqued our interest in learning about other sites of prehistoric art in Cuba. We invited José Ramón Alonso Lorea, an art historian who has specialized in archaeology, to introduce our readers to another area in Cuba with extensive cave paintings. [. . .]

Cuba has an abundance of this prehistoric patrimony, although the National Museum generally begins the history of Cuban art in the colonial era. For many Cuban art scholars, this neglect of prehistoric cave art is incomprehensible and continues to be very problematic. The general public has little knowledge of these cultural patrimonies.

This year, 2017, marks the anniversary of an important discovery that occurred 80 years ago. In October 1937, the organizers of an archaeological excursion, Drs. René Herrera Fritot and Fernando Royo Guardia, revealed designs carved into the walls of caves in Punta del Este, then known as Isla de Pinos, in the southeast of Cuba.

In his 1938 and 1939 reports, Cuban archaeologist Herrera Fritot gave a detailed description of the drawings. He presented the plan of the cave with the location of the most visible pictographs, which he drew to scale and numbered, thus defining a method of studying rock art unsurpassed to this day.

It is true that Fernando Ortiz was the first to discover this cave. He visited it in 1922 and again in 1929, but the work of this renowned researcher was left unfinished, and he was never able to publish the report of his study. We were lucky enough to find his manuscript in 1992, and could see that Ortiz observed and drew designs that no one else has been able to see since. This cave and its drawings suffered the negative impact of human intervention in later times, when people visited it or even lived inside it.

Nevertheless, an impressive quantity of paintings remains: more than 230 pictographs cover ceilings and walls. Most are formed by concentric circles of alternating colors, black and red, leading some scholars to note that this is the most important location, here on the Cuban archipelago, in relation to the theme of circles; no other cave in the Americas, and possibly in the world, contains such a profusion of this design. Herein lies its importance within the study of Cuban rock art.

The Punta del Este drawings are linear, abstract, and geometric, where curved lines predominate; articulated by proximity in relation to some, and tangentially to others, with a few superimposed. All of which makes it difficult to determine where a drawing ends and where another begins. On the other hand, because most of them are painted on the roof of the grotto, it is difficult to determine when a stroke is vertical and when horizontal. [. . .]

[Drawings above by Herrera Fritot, 1938. Courtesy José Ramón Alonso Lorea. See


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