Cave discoveries shed new light on Native and European religious encounters in the Americas
A project led by archaeologists from the British Museum and the University of Leicester has discovered remarkable evidence which shows how the first generations of Europeans to arrive in the Americas engaged with indigenous peoples and their spiritual beliefs deep inside the caves of a remote Caribbean island.
|Christian crucifix [Credit: Jago Cooper]|
A large collection of early colonial inscriptions and commentaries written by named individuals within a cave system of pre-existing indigenous spiritual iconography provides dramatic new insights into the tone and personal context of this momentous time of encounter.
|Crucifix next to pre-existing indigenous figures [Credit: Jago Cooper]|
The island of Mona, on a key Atlantic route from Europe to the Americas, was at the heart of sixteenth-century Spanish colonial projects and was recorded by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in AD 1494.
|A Christian Calvary in cave 18 with the name Jesus under the central cross [Credit: Jago Cooper]|
A team of researchers led by Dr Jago Cooper (British Museum) and Dr Alice Samson (University of Leicester) has been studying the island - which is one of the most cavernous regions, per square kilometre, in the world.
|Inscription 'Plura fecit deus' [Credit: Jago Cooper]|
Since 2013, exploration and survey of around 70 cave systems—part of an interdisciplinary study of past human activity on Mona Island—has revealed that Mona's caves include the greatest diversity of preserved indigenous iconography in the Caribbean, with thousands of motifs recorded in darkzone chambers far from cave entrances.
|Indigenous iconography from cave 18 showing ancestral beings and anthrozoomorphic figures |
[Credit: Cooper, Samson, et al.]
|IHS Christogram [Credit: Jago Cooper]|
"This not only provides a counterpoint to official metropolitan histories, but also tracks the beginnings of new religious engagements and transforming cultural identities in the Americas."
|View of the Mona shore from a cave [Credit: Jago Cooper]|
"This is a unique site that helps us to understand the origins of cultural identity in the Americas, the start of a process that continues right up to the modern day."
Source: University of Leicester [July 19, 2016]