Sunday, December 30, 2007

Extensive Taino Indian site unearthed in Puerto Rico

"An Atlanta-area archaeology firm working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has uncovered the outlines of a very large Taino ball court and ceremonial site, complete with human graves, trash mounds, building imprints and a few carved petroglyphs that are among the most intricate and detailed ever discovered in the region.

'Suddenly it went from a very good site to an extraordinary site,' said Chris Espenshade, who led a team of local archaeologists and workers from New South Associates of Stone Mountain, Ga. at the dig this past summer and fall. "Part of what makes it extraordinary is that we have everything here, the midden (refuse) mound, the batey (ceremonial site), the house patterns, the burials and the rock art.'

The Taino Indians were part of the Arawak people who settled the Caribbean, most likely venturing from the northern coast of South America, their canoes carried by ocean currents onto the string of islands that curve like an arc through the tropical sea.

Several indigenous villages have been uncovered on Puerto Rico and other islands, but the recent find by the banks of the Portugues River appears to be one of the most extensive ever unearthed.

The size and importance of the site wasn't known until this fall, when the flood control project finally near construction. Espenshade's team worked through the summer, but only in the past few months unearthed enough to determine the major scope of the site.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime find," said David McCullough, a Corps archaeologist from the agency's Jacksonville office, who said preliminary estimates show the site dates to around 600 A.D. "The petroglyph carvings are outstanding, with various human-looking faces and bodies. Another remarkable thing is the site is so well preserved. It was covered by the river's flooding and wasn't looted or cleared for farming."