10 August 2013

Digging Up the Past

© Brandon Queen, 2013
As the signage at the entrance of the exhibit explains, guaca is a Taino word for "region" or "surrounding area" and also denotes the small vases in which offerings were placed, as well as a tomb. The Museum of History, Anthropology, and Art of the University of Puerto Rico is currently showcasing part of its collection of Taino archeological treasures and, as is the case with many archealogically themed exhibitions, the items on display are primarily ritual pieces.

From stone slabs with petroglyphs to fully intact vases and stools, this small exhibit gives a great deal of insight into the development of indigenous culture in Puerto Rico for the past couple of millenia; there's even an almost complete skeleton to welcome you into the world of Puerto Rico's native history. The chronologically organised display begins with a display of stone and crystal tools, proceeds to some of the most beautifully executed pottery and jewelry produced anywhere in the Americas, and ends with a series of ritual items, including the famous dujos, or stools, used by noble and religious figures during important activities.

More broadly, this exhibit showcases the archeological activity that has taken place in Puerto Rico over the past century and reminds us that every corner of the New World was inhabited before the arrival of European armies, merchants, and religious groups. While I don't have a clear idea nor good knowledge of the historiography of Puerto Rican archeology, I can say that the collection poses more questions than it answers regarding native history on the island. In other words, the archeological scene in Puerto Rico should be a very interesting and exciting one in the years to come (if the funding is available, of course).

The nation boasts a very well-rounded programme of study in archeology at the prestigious Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe (Puerto Rico and Caribbean Centre for Advanced Studies). The island also recently hosted the 25th Congress of the International Association for Caribbean Archeology, which brought together researchers from all over the world and focused on all of the Caribbean nations; there were presentations in French, English and Spanish and not a single cultural block was left out of the programme (the oft-ignored Dutch islands were the subject of a few presentations).

In addition to shedding light on the full history of Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean in general, these discoveries provide a range of beautiful new additions to the material and architectural heritage of the Americas as a whole.

The exhibit runs throughout the fall of 2013.