6/02/2005

The Enigma of the Taino Astronomers

By Miguel Lozano DAV/CR

Research done in Antigua and Cuba refers to the possibility that the pre-Hispanic population of the Caribbean identified as Arawaks, of which the Tainos were the more advanced culturally, had rudimentary astronomic knowledge they used in a utilitarian way.

Evidence in Antigua points to the probable existence of an observatory a thousands years ago at the plain of Greencastle Hill, where the position of petroglyphs coincide with celestial points used to identify important moments for agriculture, according to investigations (Orbe No. 51/2002).

The ancient population of the Caribbean may have known when the rains would start, the arrival of hurricane seasons, or determine harvests, by way of a stone calendar, according to the hypothesis which is not yet proven.

Cuban speleogists Racso Fernandez and Jose B. Gonzalez believe that people who arrived from La Española (Dominican Republic and Haiti) created a ceremonial center in Cuba where they carried out astronomic rites to identify the arrival of the rainy seasons.

In the investigation, "The enigma of the native petroglyphs of Cuba and the insular Caribbean," the authors have their interpretation of the Caverna de Patana ceremonial center, in which espeleometric, meteorological and astronomic measures were taken, besides studying pieces of indigenous pottery.

Specialists particularly note the position of a petroglyph of a deity in a cavern located on the southeastern shore of Cuba, supported in mythological stories from La Española and in investigations done in the Dominican Republic.

The experts assure that this is a representation of the God of the Boinayel Rain, found by Dominican petroglyph experts in this country in the Square of Chacuey, Sabila's Cave and the pictography of the El Ferrocarril Cave.

The large stone with drawings of El Gran Cemi occupied the central place in the ceremonial center of the cave located near the population of Patana, Maisi, 100 meters above sea level, in the Eastern province of Guantanamo. The cave was also called the Cave of the Vermin, of Cemi, and the Cave of Water.

Unfortunately the figure was moved to the US by North American archeologist Mark R. Harrington at the beginning of the twentieth Century. It is currently in the basement of the Museum of American Indians in New York.

The investigation by Fenandez and Gonzalez is based on the description of the 1.22 meter stone with petroglyphs made by the North American investigator including his observations and a photo used in his workshop "Cuba before Colon."

According to Harrington "This image was looking to the East and was placed in a way so that at a certain hour of the morning, a sunray entered a crack illuminating his face, at least in June and July."

However, Fernandez and Gonzalez did not believe accidental the location of the figure that represents the rain in a position that permitted its illumination during the Summer Solstice, when the sun reaches its maximum distance of the equator (21 and 22 of June).

Fernandez and Gonzalez believe this date was important for an agricultural tribe in a country like Cuba, with only two climatic stations (dry and rainy) because it marks the moment in which the afternoon rains become almost daily.

The hypothesis is that the pre-Columbian population used the ceremonial center to learn the moment of the beginning of the rainy season, like it is thought was done in Antigua by their relatives.

Observations of the wise man Fernando Ortiz and the investigator Antonio Nuñez Jimenez, both Cubans, point to the possibility that similar rituals could have been done in the cave of Punta del Este, in Isla de la Juventud.

These cases open an incognito about the existence Taino development beyond what was previously thought, although it did not reach the level of their Central American neighbors.

The ethnologist and journalist Odalys Busacron thinks it is probable that the disappearance of the descendants of those ancient people combined with the lack of attention given by the Europeans to the native culture, propitiated the ignorance of the true level of development of Caribbean population.

Although there is still much to confirm it, the attractive hypothesis of the Taino astronomers (or meteorologists) is a puzzle whose solution could change the concept about the Taino culture, considered inferior to others of the same time period.


*Source: http://www.plenglish.com/article.asp?ID={13B9934B-B5E6-4067-8C93-8B2EF345F4A6}&language=EN

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