Puerto Rican petroglyphs caught in sovereignty fight

While building a dam to prevent flooding on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, the US Army Corps of Engineers uncovered a rock carved with the image of a woman.

The ancient petroglyph of the woman was found on a five-acre site in J├ícana, a spot along the Portugues River in the city of Ponce, on Puerto Rico’s southern coast. Among the largest and most significant ever unearthed in the Caribbean, archaeologists said, the site includes plazas used for ceremony or sport, a burial ground, residences and a midden mound — a pile of ritual trash.

The finding sheds new light on the lifestyle and activities of a people extinct for nearly 500 years.

Experts say the site — parts of it unearthed from six feet of soil — had been used at least twice, the first time by pre-Taino peoples as far back as 600 AD, then again by the Tainos sometime between 1200 and 1500 AD.

But since the dam area is a federal construction site, the ACoE packed up 125 cubic feet of artifacts, all the portable goodies found on the site including skeletons, ceramics, even small petroglyphs, and shipped them to Atlanta. For some reason, the Puerto Rican authorities had a problem with this.

A little diplomacy might have been nice, but the ACoE and the firm they hired to hurriedly excavate the site so they could get back to dam building shipped the artifacts without asking or even telling the local government.

US law requires that any historical artifacts found by the Corps must be kept in a federally approved curating facility, and there aren’t any of those in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican law requires that any historical artifacts found in Puerto Rico remain in Puerto Rico. Ugliness ensues.

Okay so everything shippable has been shipped, but what about the site itself with its 800-year-old ball courts and large, beautifully-preserved, unique petroglyphs? Well, the ACoE can’t move the dam, so they’re just gonna rebury the site.

That’s way better than plan A, trust, which was to use the location as a rock dump.

What’s left of the site will remain beside a five-year dam construction project, which will continue as planned. It may be vulnerable to floods, archaeologists acknowledged, but they note that it lasted that way underground for hundreds of years.

”It’s not the best way to preserve it, but it’s better than the alternative: to destroy it,” Espenshade said. “The Corps could have destroyed it, but they took the highly unusual step to preserve it.”

Givers aren’t they?


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Comment by Livia
2008-07-03 01:50:15

That’s sad and just another sign of the times. History, ancient or slightly more recent, isn’t important in this now-centric time.

Comment by livius drusus
2008-07-06 08:51:31

Well, at least they saved the artifacts, and if by some miracle the site doesn’t flood, Puerto Rican archaeolgists will be able to examine the find.

Cross your fingers and hope for revolution. ;)

Comment by Cheri
2008-07-03 17:56:39

I too find it sad that the Army Corps of Engineers is able to loot artifacts and remains of our ancestors. The USA “rescued” Puerto Rico and her inhabits which automatically sets the idea up that they are the law. Add to this the USA refusal as to acknowledge the Taino are not extinct (the native of North America have this problem too) and because they labeled PR as a common wealth of the USA that they, the USA government see them self as “God and Lord”, ultimate ruler. How is this any different from being ruled by Spain? The Army Corps of Engineers and other USA entities seem to think they can abuse and negligent the governing law of Puerto Rico.
If this were any other country they would have honored protocol, not to mention they would not have hired an outside group who only have monetary gain in their eyes, but hired within Puerto Rico.
They treat the people of PR and her government as though they are backward and incapable of scientific analysis. PR has everything that the USA does. Because these items were not accounted for by itemizing as by PR law we will never have a true accounting of what has been looted and sold. There is no way that an outside archaeological company was going to go into the field without monetary compensation and a share of what was found, if not a guarantee they could keep all they salvaged. Their contract was with a US entity not the PR government who should have been consulted and partnered in the project.
I find it amazing and interesting that after their find suddenly their was a glut of perfect Taino pieces to hit the Ebay market topping out at prices well over $2,000. I’d like to see the contract that company in Georgia had and an accounting of the artifacts as well as an investigation into why they negated PR law.
In short the US government only honors those governments it wishes to recognize and because they feel commonwealth is equated to a colonial ownership they will do as they please until the people of Puerto Rico take them to court via the Supreme Court, the UN and the court of the people (media) not until them will the government of PR, her people and her laws be honored.

Comment by livius drusus
2008-07-06 08:56:49

At the very least the ACoE regulations regarding where historical artifacts are to be kept should have been suspended during work in Puerto Rico.

It’s such an incredibly tone-deaf, 19th c. McKinleyite imperialist action to just strip the site of all its antiquities and send them to the US “for their own good”.

As for the private company, I have no doubt whatsoever that they were paid and well. The US government is notoriously willing to be overcharged by its contractors.

I hope very much that partage was not involved in the deal. For public relations reasons alone that would be an insane move.

Comment by Mike M
2012-07-30 18:34:13

Two years old, I know, I know. lol, but your blog is so interesting that I want to read all of your articles, and I have so very little time to do so (I read about 2 or 3 articles a day. heh.)

Anyway, in response to Cheri:

First of all, PR is a territory of the US. The PR has instituted a common-wealth form of government for themselves, not the US.

Second, the PR has had many opportunities in the past to either vote for independance, to become a full-fledged 51st state, or to maintain their territorial status. The people of PR have spoken on several occasions: They want to maintain their territorial status of the United States.

That status has many benefits, and many drawbacks.

The benefits include:

1. Not having to pay any federal taxes, while receiving federal projects, which is why the ACoE has been employed to build a dam in the PR practically free-of-charge to the people of PR. (Most of the funds are coming from the federal treasury in which all the tax payers of the 50 states are paying for.)

2. They have full US citizenship if they move to the US. Of which they would be granted without having to wait in the long line of those from other parts of the world applying.

3. The PR residents have the ability to freely move about the United States without a passport, and are offered full rights under the US Constitution (except being represented in Congress, because they are not a state.)

The downfalls of remaining a territory of the US:

1. As mentioned above, they do not have representation in Congress. (Along with it, they do not pay federal taxes, remember that!)

2. US law take precedence over territorial law. In this case, that means the US government has a standard procedure of storing ancient human artifacts in curatorial facilities. It just happens that there is not a single one anywhere on the island, so they had to ship it to the closest place: Atlanta Georgia. (This is NOT “looting.” If it were sold for a profit by the facility’s manager in Atlanta, then it would be “looting.” In which case, that would be a criminal act and the manager or anyone involved would be charged accordingly.)

To accuse the US Government of being “just like under Spanish rule,” ignores the fact that the United States government has given the people of Puerto Rico one of three choices mentioned above: Full independence, full statehood, or remain a territory. I exlained the pros and cons of remaining a territory above. The other two options also have pros and cons attached. The people of PR thought it most convenient to receive such excellent benefits as: Cheap education supported by federal dollars, cheap construction works projects as dams and highways, and the economic benefit of individuals freely moving to any of the 50 states as a new resident in order to receive the ability to vote in federal elections, start new businesses, and to move freely about the country. All without having to pay federal income taxes

Now, I fully support the choice PR has made. Whatever they feel benefits themselves the most is great. But you can’t pin the situation as some sort of fault or failure on the USA.

Comment by Dr.Q
2013-02-10 17:41:18

This is about antiqes not estatus.

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