Archive for July 1st, 2008

Puerto Rican petroglyphs caught in sovereignty fight

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

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 Jácana, 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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