A Fusion Of Art On Cave Walls Indicates A Strange Narrative
About 66 km west of Puerto Rico lies a lone island that has in recent times gained limelight as archaeologists have bumped into an underground gallery network that is full of enthralling art. Antiquity, a journal reports this site as a set of images that might be a record of the first contact between two divergent worldviews as they consist of creations by the natives of the region and those by early European visitors.
Isla Mona or Mona Island may be a mere 49.2 square kilometers in area but its underside is rife with around 200 caves in total. Even as the archaeologists are yet exploring the caves and have only been in 70 of these, they have found more than a couple of dozens that have art adorning their dark recesses.
On this island, that today is a natural reserve, it is these caves that are the only source of fresh water. The experts claim a clear and solid connection between this life giving resource and precious imagery that is so common within these structures.
Shapes and forms like swirls, figures and lines are scratched with the help of nails onto these soft surfaces that constitute the walls and the ceilings. Jago Cooper, curator of the Americas at the British Museum in London goes on to say that the finger fluted designs inscribed within these caves in fact reflect the spiritual beliefs of the native residents. Cooper in fact has found funds and support from the National Geographic Society to further his work and research in the field.
This collection of motifs, figures is arguably the most diverse collection in whole of Caribbean and so far the designs that have been catalogued include forms representative of humans, animals, and geometric symbols. Some of these works of art sprawl for several yards and some have even overlapped prior works to reflect the fact that the visits and the works were done repetitively at different times.
Upon a deeper study and exploration of iconography, material studies, and carbon dating and aging of the torches that were found and presumed to be used to light up the areas, the timelines went as far back as the 12th century and the art were indicative of pre-Hispanic dates.
For more than 5000 years it was the natives who populated this part of the world while the last century overlapped the beginning of the European colonial era. The island was put on the map as Christopher Columbus landed here in 1494, which led to this particular route becoming quite popular as a connector between Europe and the New World as it was called then. It is at this particular juncture in time when things get really interesting though.
As archaeologists are examining these artistic caves, they came across one where indigenous art is interspersed with marks that are presumed to be made by the Early Europeans from the Spanish strongholds of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola who came to the island. These inscriptions are full of Latin & Spanish phrases, Spanish names and symbols from Christianity that include abbreviations of Jesus’s name and crosses. Many of these inscriptions were created with the use of tools that had sharp edges.
One of the more historically interesting aspect of these inscriptions are remnants of modern graffiti where names and dates belonging to the mid-16th century that might have been scratched by people as a way to mark their presence or visit.
Francisco Alegre one of the clearly European names was later identified to be that of a Spaniard who arrived in the West Indies in the 1530s. Though Alegre was based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, he was later conferred with the charge of royal estate that also included the Mona Island.
The marked similarities between his documented signature and the inscriptions on the cave indicate that he visited the cave in person and could not resist his impulse to record his presence there.
According to Cooper, this set of art that populates the caves on Mona Island clearly reflects the dichotomy between two sets of art where the latter is of European nature which is done in response to or as a reaction to the already inscribed native works.
The coming together of the native markings and the European inscriptions, the absence of any markings that suggest any form of conflict and the obvious fact that for the Europeans to have reached this place, they must have had native help paint a different picture from the one that is often narrated as the chronicle of the conquest of the New World by the Spanish. It was a time in history when two different cultural groups were in the process of getting to know each other by sharing ideas and putting their heads together in an effort to map out the meaning of this intercultural interaction for the future generations to come.