Site Section Links
The prehistory of Cuba is shrouded in mystery. Unlike the great cosmological civilizations, of what the first Iberian conquerors and explorers called Tierra Firme, the Indian peoples of Cuba and adjacent islands of the Caribbean left no vast monumental ritual and urban centers, nor did they possess any system of inscriptions such as the Mayan glyphs that still tantalize scholars, ranging from classical archaeology to computational cryptology. Strangely, in view of the proximity of Cuba's westernmost extension to the Yucatan peninsula, there is not the slightest evidence of any contact between the Maya and the Cuban aborigines. Nor, are their traditions, legends, and myths available to us.
As peoples, the Cuban aborigines ceased to exist within the first century after the Spanish conquest. The greatest monument to them is poignantly negative: La Historia de la Destrucción de las Indias, by Father Bartolomé de las Casas – an impassioned denunciation of the pitiless extermination of the natives of the Antilles by the newcomers from the Iberian peninsula.
The tasks of physical labor fell to black men imported from West Africa and, somewhat later, to waves of immigrants from the Spanish motherland, notably Galicia and the Canary Islands. Today, most standard references show Cuba as a country of whites, blacks, and their varying mixtures. The Indians have virtually disappeared in the modern population, as many educated Cubans will affirm. In point of fact, they have not quite vanished altogether; there remain tiny nuclei of people in isolated regions who retain unmistakable Indian physical characteristics. But, as far as is known, these groups – probably little more than one-tenth of a percent of the island's population – have lost not only their language but also any identifiable pre-Columbian traditions.
[*!* Image] INSERT KVI4_58.TIF
That the indigenous peoples of Cuba have not figured at all in catastrophist studies is not surprising. We know nothing of their cosmogony, nor of the tales they must have told around the campfires beneath the starry face of the tropical night. Has the purely human (and perhaps therefore more terrible) catastrophe which befell them silenced forever their fragile voices – voices that might have added a little more to our knowledge? The answer cannot be found in their words, which may be eternally lost to us, and perhaps not with any definitiveness with their material remains. But there are in these remains, if no answers, at least some intriguing questions that acquire a habitation and a name.
If Cuban archaeology began as little more than "pot hunting" for the collection of rare prizes for museums, during the last half century or so there have been an increasing number of explorations carried out with scientific and methodological rigor. Well known foreign archaeologists, including the Americans, Mark R. Harrington(1) and Irving Rouse,(2) and recently the Polish scholar, I. Kozlowski,(3) have conducted original and valuable research. Within Cuba the select group of investigators includes Drs. Herrera Fritot and Garcia Robiou from the University of Havana, R. Dacal,(4) E. Tabio and J. M. Guarch(5) of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, and above all Dr. Felipe Martinez-Arango(6) from the University of Oriente, who has been responsible for the most successful and extensive work in the field.
Their collective effort has by now provided us with a broad, if incomplete, panorama of the material culture complexes of pre-Columbian Cuba. The data they have obtained has permitted detailed tabulations of diagnostic artifacts, along with the comparison of typological features in shell and stone carvings, and – perhaps most significantly – studies of the location and numerical distribution of residual deposits that raise vexing questions about the accepted theories regarding the origin of the peoples known collectively as Ciboney (Siboney), who represent the first, aceramic (non-pottery making) phase of Cuban prehistory.
These questions are highlighted by the results of radiocarbon dating. We can consider the case of the Ciboney culture which occupied the entire island, and is conventionally regarded as an offshoot of Amazonian groups. The accepted hypothesis has been that these preceramic peoples came to the Greater Antilles following the same "island hopping" route that was to serve centuries later as the thoroughfare which brought the Arawaks to the large islands. These early peoples gave rise to the groups known as Ostionoid in Puerto Rico, Chicoid in the Island of Hispaniola, with its derivatives – Meillat and Carrier – which have their homologues in the Sub-Taíno and Taíno cultures of Cuba (dating from approximately 830 A.D. to the Conquest).
[*!* Image] Ciboney Aceramic Culture; Mortar; Gladiolith; Cutting Instrument Silex.
If, however, we analyze the two prime factors for the determination of migratory paths, we arrive at a seeming paradox: Cuban sites of Ciboney settlement are quite numerous, indeed practically countless, whether we consider the types known as Guayabo Blanco or the variant forms of the Cayo Redondo type, characterized by gladioliths, stone spheres, and dextral pieces. Yet, in Haiti and Santo Domingo, extensive and detailed investigations have revealed but few scattered sites, while farther east, in Puerto Rico, only one has been found; and still farther along the Antillean Chain, merely a single site on the island of Antigua.(7) None has been reported in Jamaica, nor in the Bahamas. We are then entitled to ask – for the archaeologist should be more ready with questions than easy answers – whether the conventional account of the first peopling of Cuba is in fact true. If it is true, then we should expect to find evidence of Ciboney occupation widely distributed elsewhere throughout the Antilles, and certainly not in the decreasing density that we do find from west to east. At the very least, much more research and analysis are called for.
On the island of Cuba itself, precise radiocarbon dates have heightened our doubts. In the excavation of the lowest inhabited stratum at Damajayabo, where I had the honor of working under the direction of Dr. Felipe Martinez-Arango, we obtained a sample from a trench (No. 51). This was subsequently dated at 3250 +100 B.P. by the radiocarbon laboratory at Yale University under the direction of Dr. Minze Stuiver. Somewhat later a sample from the Cave of Funche, Guanahacabibes, on the western end of the island, was dated at 4000 B.P. The material excavated by the Cuban archaeologists, Guarch and Teourbe-Tolon, with the collaboration of Kozlowski, was dated at 5100 B.P. by the Gliwise laboratory in Poland, the oldest such sample reported for all of the Antilles.
In addition, Guarch, Kozlowski, and Tabío have recently realized rigorous stratigraphic excavations at both the Funche and Levisa sites. They have remarked on the evident parallelisms between the highly developed lapidary and other stoneworking techniques characteristic of the Guayabo Blanco phase of the Ciboney culture with those of the Paleoindian peoples of the North American continent.(8)
[*!* Image] Printing from Cave No. 1 "Punta del Este" Isla de Pinos Ciboney Culture.
Of further interest are the pictographs of the earliest Cuban cultural horizon, here illustrated with reproductions of paintings from Cave No. 1 at Punta del Este, Isla de Pinos. Geometric motifs predominate: Circles, open curves, and stepped rectangles. The circles are concentric, alternately red and black, and the curious cruciform figures branch outward from the centers of the designs – all of which leaves us with the impression of a certain complexity, not to mention a peculiar developmental inversion, with regard to the Old World, where anthropomorphic and zöomorphic forms predate the appearance of complex geometrical ones.(9) Another peculiarity of Ciboney decoration lies in the abandonment of bichromatic design in the latest phases of the culture, a change not attributable to decay or impoverishment of the tradition, since the geometric designs show an increase in complexity.
Perhaps the most puzzling feature of Cuban prehistory relates to the habitational sites themselves. While in many cases the sites were occupied by more recent pottery-making communities, nowhere do we find any evidence of transculturation. Everywhere the ceramic and pre-ceramic levels are separated by a thick layer of sterile material with no sign of human occupancy. In the specific instance of Damajayabo, the Ciboney level extends to the present freatic mantle; and we are led to ask: Why was this coastal site, which was and still remains an ideal habitat, suddenly abandoned? Could there have occurred some unfortuitous event that obliged the inhabitants to move?
In the excavations in which I participated, it was observed that Ciboney materials were usually embedded in a mixture of sand and calcareous matter, the latter having an unusual rose-colored tint.(10) What led these Paleoindians to leave their beachfront residences is not evident from presently available data, but one is strongly led to suspect that catastrophic events were involved – a suspicion that is strengthened from a catastrophist perspective when we consider that the end of the Ciboney occupation has been dated at approximately 1300 B.C.(10-13) This site has been described by Drs. Cañas-Abril, Chavez, and Luft, of the Geography and Geology Departments of the University of Oriente, as a deltic formation flanked by emersion terraces of probable Tertiary origin.
This site remained unoccupied until the arrival of the Sub-Taíno inhabitants about 830 A.D.; and between the two levels lies a 1.2 meter layer of sterile sand, rose-tinted at its inferior margin. In this context we can only regret that, in conjunction with the archaeological work at Damajayabo, studies of the evident cataclysmic geology of the location were not conducted. However, it was under circumstances quite foreign to science which made such studies impossible.
In this connection, it is noteworthy to mention that just a kilometer from Damajayabo, at the beach of Daiquirí (where the Roughriders disembarked during the Spanish-American War), we find buried under the fine sand some enormous and but slightly rounded stone blocks scattered over the bedrock, as if they were cast down from above or somehow ejected by the ocean. Near the same beach is the Cordillera de la Gran Piedra (Big Stone Range), so called because of an enormous block of stone poised on top of a 1250 meter peak. The volume of this stone is calculated at 23,500 cubic meters, and its weight at 61,335 metric tons. Traditionally the stone was believed to be a meteorite, but more recently it has been described as a conglomerate.
The only real certainty is that considerable work remains if the questions surrounding the geology and archaeology of Damajayabo, specifically, and of Cuba, generally, are to be answered. Nevertheless, we might at least tentatively conclude that catastrophic events are not inconsistent with the data now available, and that these provide a plausible framework for the clarification of certain enigmas in the archaeology of the island.
* * * * *
Editor's Note: Dr. Ruiz-Lafont carried out his archaeological work in Cuba from the mid to the late 1950s while a research fellow of archaeology at the University of Oriente, but became a scholar-in-exile following the rise to power of Fidel Castro in January of 1959 after the successful Cuban revolution, which also abrogated his appointive position as Secretary of Education of Oriente Province. His flight from Cuba in 1965 also abandoned his role as an active member of the Archaeological and Ethnological Committee of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, although he still maintains his membership in this organization.
At the time of his archaeological excavations, Ruiz-Lafont was not aware of Velikovsky or his work. His acquaintance with Worlds in Collision was initiated in late 1978 when he and Jack Pockman were engaged to give what turned out to be an unfavorable review of the Spanish translation, Mundos en Colision by the Mexican publishing house of Editorial Diana. Ruiz-Lafont read this ersatz edition of Worlds in Collision in its entirety early in 1981, and despite the shortcomings of the translation found Velikovsky's work to be remarkably sound. Because so little is generally known about Cuban archaeology, even in the western world, Ruiz-Lafont was asked to present a paper outlining his work in Cuba at the West Coast Seminar in August of 1980, which he gave in his native Spanish while Pockman supplied a running translation. His paper was one of the highlights of the seminar. – FBJ
NOTES AND REFERENCES1. Mark R. Harrington, Cuba Before Columbus (1921).
2. Irving Rouse, The Archaeology of the Maniabon Hill, Yale Univ. Press (1942); Prehistory of Haiti (1939).
3. I. Kozlowski, "Las Industrias de la Piedra Tallada en Cuba en su contexto del Caribe" (1973 Ms.).
4. R. Decal, "Excavaciones en Cueva Funche, Pinar del Rio," Academia de Ciencias de Cuba (1970).
5. J. M. Guarch, Manual de Arqueologia, Acad. de Cien. de Cuba (1968).
6. Felipe Martinez-Arango, Superposicion Cultural en Damajayabo, Havana (1968) (Director del Museo de Historia y Arqueologia de la Universidad de Oriente, Cuba).
7. E. Tabío, José M. Guarch, and Lourdes Dominguez, "Antiguedad del hombre preagroalfarero temprano en Cuba" ("The antiquity of early pre-agro-ceramic man in Cuba"), Cuba Arqueologica, Editorial Oriente (1978), p. 241.
8. Ibid., p. 240.
9. The reproductions of cave paintings are discussed by José M. Guarch-Delmonte of the Cuban Academy of Sciences in the monograph: "Consideraciones sobre la capacidad fisiológia-cultural de los indocubanos para la ejecucion de pictogramas" (Considerations regarding the physiologico-cultural capacities of the indocuban peoples for the execution of pictographs), Cuba Arqueologica, Editorial Oriente, Santiago de Cuba (1965). Guarch writes, referring to the pictographic complex at Cave No. 1, Punta del Este, Isla de Pinos: "The central motif is a succession of concentric circles of alternate red and black. . . There are also other motifs, much smaller circles, open curves, and straight lines." Guarch adds: "The circles are not perfect, that is to say they are only relatively circular, and according to the observations of investigators their execution was from the centers outward."
10. F. Martinez-Arango, op. cit., p. 31. Trinchera 40: "There are porous medium size rocks beneath this level, which extends downward 1.30 meters. We find a layer of clayed sand of a grey color tinted with reddish-violet tones. This concentration, equally in the lowest stratum of Trench 38, marks the objects of this level unequivocally" [emphasis added]. Pp. 37-8: We read of "possible ceremonial stone of rudimentary gladioliths of yellow sandstone spheres of a grey-vermilion hue" [emphasis added]
11. L. Montane Darde, "El Indio Cubano en la Cienago de Zapata" ("The Cuban Indian in the Cienago de Zapata"), in J. A. Cosculluela, Cuatro anos en la Cienago de Zapata (Four Years in the Cienago de Zapata), Havana (1918). – A description of the stratigraphic sequence in Darde's excavation of Guayabo Blanco Key reporting, after the sixth and lowest level, of "molluscs covering the floor composed of yellow ferrous or ferruginous day that form the normal floor at Guayabo Blanco".
12. As an addendum, included is a note regarding the coloration of the lowest strata found in excavations in which we participated. In Arqueologia de Sardinero, Univ. of Oriente (1973), p. 19, we read the report of M. Nelsa Trincado Fontan on Trench No. 2: "The lowest level of this trench oscillates between 0.35 and 0.40 meters in thickness. Beneath this there is a dark layer infiltrated by the clay which covers it."
13. According to Sven Loren, an early archaeologist of Cuba in the first part of this century, the Ciboney proceeded from Florida, as cited by Anita Royo, Encyclopedia Cubana, 2nd Ed., Havana (1977), p. 377.