Title: Journal of Caribbean archaeology
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00091746/00002
 Material Information
Title: Journal of Caribbean archaeology
Series Title: Journal of Caribbean archaeology
Alternate Title: JCA
Abbreviated Title: J. Caribb. archaelo.
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Publisher: Christopher Ohm Clement ;
Christopher Ohm Clement
William F. Keegan
Place of Publication: Gainesville FL
Publication Date: 2001
Frequency: annual
Subject: Archaeology -- Periodicals -- Caribbean Area   ( lcsh )
Antiquities -- Periodicals -- Caribbean Area   ( lcsh )
Genre: periodical   ( marcgt )
System Details: Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Dates or Sequential Designation: Vol. 1 (2000)-
General Note: Title from title screen (publisher's Web site, viewed Dec. 2, 2002).
General Note: Latest issue consulted: Vol. 5 (2004).
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00091746
Volume ID: VID00002
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 003345617
oclc - 41077527
lccn - sn 99003684
issn - 1524-4776


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Journal of .. .


Geoffrey W. Conrad
William Hammond Mathers Museum
Indiana University
601 East 8th Street
Bloomington, IN 47408-3812
conrad@ indiana. edu

John W. Foster
California State Parks
PO Box 942896
Sacramento, CA 94296-0001
parkarky @cwo. com

Charles D. Beeker
Office of Underwater Science
Department of Recreation and Park Administration
HPER 133
Indiana University
1025 East 7th Street
Bloomington, IN 47405-7109
cbeeker @indiana. edu

The Manantial de la Aleta is a flooded cavern in the 1 ,mic.iei ni Dominican Republic. Organic
artifacts recovered from the site include carved wooden objects, gourd vessels, and basketry. The
artifacts are of Taino manufacture and have calibrated dates ranging from A.D. 1035 to 1420.
Some of the artifacts are of types previously unreported from the Caribbean, while others differ
significantly from commonly illustrated Taino specimens. This paper provides preliminary
descriptions of the organic artifacts and offers initial discussions of their cultural implications.

La Aleta ("The Fin") is an important Taino
site in the province of La Altagracia in the
easternmost Dominican Republic (Figure 1). In
1492 this area was part of the aboriginal
chiefdom of Higuey, one of the five principal
cacicazgos of the island of Hispaniola at the
time of European contact (Las Casas 1967:I:22-
26).1 The site now lies within the boundaries of
the modern Parque Nacional del Este, about 5
km inland from the closest point on the
shoreline. The local landscape is formed of flat
limestone bedrock with many cracks and
solution cavities. Groundwater percolating

through the limestone supports a dense
subtropical forest vegetation that covers the site

La Aleta has been known to archaeologists
for 20 years, ever since Jose Guerrero (1981)
carried out a brief reconnaissance for the Museo
del Hombre Dominicano. It is possible,
moreover, that La Aleta is a site that was visited
by the early Spanish chronicler Bartolome de
Las Casas and described in his Apologetica
Historia Sumaria (Las Casas 1967:I:24-25;
Guerrero 1981:14).2

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Organic Artifacts from the Manantial de la Aleta

Figure 1. Map of the Caribbean Basin showing the location of La Aleta.

The Manantial de la Aleta

Guerrero (1981:14-15) reported the
presence of one ceremonial plaza at the site, and
recent investigations have discovered three more
(Ortega 1997; Conrad et al. 1997). In Taino
chiefdoms such plazas were the setting for
important public ceremonies, including ritual
dances called areitos and ball games. The
presence of at least four plazas marks La Aleta
as a prominent place in the chiefdom of Higuey
(see Alegria 1983; Siegel 1999). Basing his
interpretation on a preliminary analysis of food
remains recovered during excavations in and
around the plazas, Elpidio Ortega (1997:9) has
suggested that La Aleta had relatively few
permanent inhabitants, and that its importance
was primarily religious and political, rather than
as a center of population. This hypothesis
remains to be tested by future investigations,
because at present the total extent and exact
composition of the site are not known. For the
moment, however, La Aleta is tentatively
characterized as a major Taino ceremonial
center, rather than as a large town.

The most spectacular feature of the site is
the so-called Manantial de la Aleta ("Spring of
the Fin"), a flooded cavern in the limestone
bedrock (Figure 2) about 75 m north of the
nearest of the four plazas. The cavern, a
circular chamber roughly 40 m in diameter, is
visible through seven "eyes," or holes in the
surface rock, spread over an area of about 10
m. The largest eye measures 2 x 3 m and offers
a dramatic view of the surface of the water 15.5
m below. The water is clear on top, but at a
depth of 10.5 m below the surface a milky
sulfide-laden layer blurs visibility. The water
clears again at 20 m. At 34.5 m below the
surface a cap rock protrudes from dark silt.
This cap rock is the top of an underwater hill
formed by limestone blocks collapsing from
above; the sides of the hill slope downward to a
depth of 73 m (Foster and Beeker 1997:27).

The slopes of this hill are thickly covered
with cultural materials, including ceramics,
stone tools, carved wooden objects, gourd

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Conrad, Foster and Beeker

Organic Artifacts from the Manantial de la Aleta
vessels, baskets, and so on. In a series of
brief field seasons between August 1996
and April 1999, researchers from Indiana
University and California State Parks
conducted preliminary investigations of
these underwater remains as part of larger
project involving collaboration between
Dominican and North American scholars.
The investigations took the form of
controlled surface collections rather than
excavations; selected artifacts were mapped
in three dimensions and then brought to the
surface (Figures 3, 4).

The nature and condition of the
recovered artifacts suggests careful
placement into the water, rather than simple
discard as trash. For example, many of the
ceramic vessels are intact. Our working
hypothesis is that the local Taino population
saw the Manantial as a portal to the watery
underworld known as Coaybay, "the house
and dwelling place of the dead" (Pane
1999:17-18; Stevens-Arroyo 1988:185-
186, 230).3 The view upward from the
surface through the largest eye was
essentially a view along the axis mundi
uniting the surface of the earth with the
heavens and the underworld (Figure 5; F
compare Siegel 1997:108, Figure 1).

If this interpretation is correct, the artifacts
in the Manantial were probably placed there
originally as offerings to the spirits of the
ancestors in the underworld, whose veneration
was a central element of Taino religion (Pane
1999:18-21; Stevens-Arroyo 1988:59-62;
Siegel 1997; Roe 1997:154-155).4 The
presence of the milky sulfur layer may have
been particularly important in this regard.
Sinking objects disappear from view as they
pass through the sulfur layer, and the moment
of their disappearance may have been seen as
the precise moment of their transition into the

The Organic Artifacts

Many of the artifacts visible underwater are
made of organic materials. They have been

Conrad, Foster and Beeker

igure 2. Cross-section of the Manantial de la Aleta.
perfectly preserved in the anoxic environment;
there is no oxygen below depths of 11 m (Jones
1997:39). Conservation concerns, however,
dictated that most organic objects should be left
in place for the time being. Accordingly, most
of the 244 artifacts recovered during the test
dives were made of ceramic or stone.
Nonetheless, 23 organic artifacts were brought
to the surface. Twenty of the organic artifacts
were made of wood, two of gourd, and one
was a basketry fragment. Commentaries on
these specimens are given below.

Wooden Artifacts

The 20 wooden artifacts consist of the
following objects:
*1 small intact duho stool (PNE-01-A-

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Organic Artifacts fom the Manantial de la Aleta

PNE-01-A 104-203


r 178 179 x
S1I 18W* 10 Im
S1 I 112 113\ \
x IxB 148 / 4 \ W 116
t190 11 117 Dot=
191 119 120 128
121 122
x x 123 124
133 1 92 126 126
9 x IM 127 129
104 196
10 197 X I I
17 1O 46i4. az x / J *

136 X 161 l
130 x 166 ISO
/10131 144 170 71 IN x
132 17 173 15 x142
136 174 17 16t3 x
13 176 164
202 156
x X
S157 149
0 $ 0 168
I 1 Indiana University 0 199

Figure 3. Sample site plan of the Manantial de la Aleta, showing the recovery locations of specimens
PNE-01-104 through 203.


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Conrad, Foster and Beeker

Organic Artifacts from the Manantial de la Aleta

the woods is a high-priority future project.
Such analysis is a potential source of
information on important questions about Taino
prehistory, including environments and
environmental alteration, forest resource
management, systems of procurement and
production and their role in the development of
complex society, and the symbolic meanings
and cultural values attached to different types of
wood (Berman 1992; Berman and Pearsall
2000; Ostapkowicz 1998; Saunders and Gray

Obvious decoration appears on only five of
the artifacts-two bowls, two large hafts, and the
crocodilian figure-and is described below. The
recent discovery of small, subtly carved
wooden objects at the Deadman's Reef site on
Grand Bahama Island (Berman et al. 1999,
2000) raises the possibility that more of the
artifacts will turn out to be decorated when they
can be examined under magnification.

Figure 4. John Foster bringing the macana war club
discussed in the text to the surface.
*1 fragment of another duho (PNE-01-A-
0005) The Heavens
*6 bowls (PNE-01-A-0081, -0164, -0215
A and B, 0220, and 0221)
*1 small vessel possibly used in the cohoba
ceremony (PNE-01-A-0224)
*3 large hafts, or helves, presumably for
petaloid celts (PNE-01-A-0080, -226, i

*1 smaller haft, possibly for a small celt or Earth's Surface
shell blade (PNE-01-A-0231)
*1 fragment of a canoe paddle (PNE-01-A-
*1 macana war club (PNE-01-A-0202)
*1 small carved crocodilian figure (PNE-
01-A-0225) Sulfur Layer
*4 small, unidentified fragments (PNE-01- Watery
A-0027, -0033, -0065, -0129); these Underworld
items are pieces of larger objects whose
functions are unknown. Ritual
The woods have yet to be identified,
although one specimen, the macana, appears to
be made of a species of palm. Identification of Figure 5. The Manantial de la Aleta as the axis mundi
(modified from Siegel 1997:108, Figure 1).

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Conrad, Foster and Becker

Organic Artifacts from the Manantial de la Aleta

Duhos were ceremonial stools that figured
prominently in the maintenance of Taino
political and ideological systems. Owned by
high-ranking individuals, most notably chiefs
(caciques), duhos were literally seats of power,
prestige, and ritual.

Duhos were used during important
ceremonial occasions, and their presence
separated their high-ranking owners from
the rest of the community, marking them as
distinct. An indispensable part of ritual
paraphernalia, the duhos were intimately
linked to hallucinogens and communication
with numinous powers. The often
elaborate carvings of the duhos represented
zemis and ancestors, visually and

5 cm
Figure 6. Duho (PNE-01-A-0228).

Conrad, Foster and Beeker
symbolically supporting the seated
individuals and lending authority to their
position and status (Ostapkowicz 1997:56).

Both wooden and stone examples exist; many
rank among the masterpieces of Taino art
(Bercht et al. 1997).

Duhos have recently been the subject of an
encyclopedic and masterful study by Joanna
Ostapkowicz (1998; see also Ostapkowicz
1997). She divides duhos into two main formal
categories, "high-backs" and "low-backs."
High-backed duhos have a projecting back or
"tail" that sweeps upward from the seat of the
stool. Low-backed duhos lack this extension of
the seat.

The intact duho from La Aleta (PNE-01-A-
0228; Figure 6) is low-backed. It is one of the
smallest duhos known, measuring only 19 cm
long by 9 cm high. Possibly it was intended to
be the seat of one of the Taino religious figures
known as zemis, rather than a stool for a human
being (Ostapkowicz 1997:64, 1998:141, 274-
275). The duho fragment (PNE-01-A-0005;
Figure 7) measures 20 x 10 cm and obviously
comes from a larger specimen, possibly but not
definitely high-backed. Unlike the commonly
illustrated examples (see Bercht et al. 1997),
neither of the duhos from La Aleta is decorated
with carved designs or inlays.


The bowls (Figures 8-11) have a variety of
forms but are largely cup- or bucket-shaped,
with walls 0.8-1.5 cm thick and circular to oval
mouths 12 to 30 cm in diameter. Two of these
bowls (PNE-01-A-0215 A and B; Figure 8)
were found together, with the smaller one
nestled tightly inside the larger one. One bowl
is not cup- or bucket-shaped, but has two long,
flaring sides and a profile vaguely reminiscent
of a wing nut (PNE-01-A-0164; Figure 11).
The mouth of this specimen measures 30 x 15
cm. Decoration in the form of a raised band
around the lip appears on two of the bowls
(PNE-01-A-0220, 0221; Figures 9-10).

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Figure 7. Duho fragment (PNE-01-A-0005). Length
20 cm.

Organic Artifacts from the Manantial de la Aleta
Ostapkowicz (1998:104-115) discusses 40
known wooden vessels from the Caribbean.
Most appear to be relatively shallower and more
platter-like than the Aleta specimens, as well as

'mm -;~~

Figure 8.
in cm.

Conrad, Foster and Beeker
more elaborately decorated. There are,
however, several deeper, more roughly
manufactured bowls that more closely resemble
the Aleta pieces, including examples from Cuba
(Harrington 1921:354-355, Plate C) and the
Turks and Caicos (Ostapkowicz 1998:113-114,
345); the Cuban specimen is not necessarily
Taino (Loven 1935:479; Ostapkowicz
1998:105). There is a vessel somewhat
reminiscent of the Aleta "wing nut" bowl in the
Museo del Hombre Dominicano (Veloz
Maggiolol972:185, Plate 29C; Ostapkowicz
1998:112-113), but it is more finely made than
its Aleta counterpart and has carved
anthropomorphic decoration.

Nested bowls (PNE-01-A-0215A, B). Scale

Figure 10. Bowl (PNE-01-A-0221). Diameter 16 cm.

Figure 9. Bowl (PNE-01-A-0220). Diameter 21 cm.

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Figure 11. Bowl (PNE-01-A-0164). Length 30 cm.

Organic Artifacts from the Manantial de la Aleta
Cohoba(?) Vessel

Cohoba was a hallucinogenic snuff made of
the seeds of Anadanantheraperegrina; it gave its
name to a ceremony through which Taino
leaders communicated with the spirit world
(Pane 1999:21, 25-26).5 One small wooden
vessel from La Aleta (PNE-01-A-0224; Figure
12) has been tentatively identified as a piece of
paraphernalia used in the cohoba ceremony.
This bowl is roughly symmetrical and 13 cm
long. Seen in cross-section, it has flared ends;
in plan the flared ends appear as projecting
handles on both sides of a central circular

The form of this object is similar to that of a
number of small vessels from the Dominican
Republic, Puerto Rico, and Cuba made of
wood, cactus, and manatee bone (Garcia
Arevalo and Chanlatte Baik 1978:51; Bercht et
al. 1997:142-143, Figures 112-113;
Ostapkowicz 1998:109-111, 115-117, 566-568;
Pendergast 1998:1). There is even one example
from the Dominican Republic made of a human
patella (Veloz Maggiolo 1972:190, Plate 30E,
193, Plate 33A). Peter Roe (1997:146)
identifies two of these vessels-one made of
manatee bone in the collections of the Museo del
Hombre Dominicano and another wooden
example in the Museo de Historia, Antropologia
y Arte, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Rio
Piedras-as bowls used to hold seeds or powder
for the cohoba ceremony. Likewise,
Ostapkowicz (1998:111) interprets two similar
bowls from a cave near El Majagual in the
Dominican Republic as "personal ritual objects,
containers of highly important substances such
as cohoba...." All of these specimens,
however, are finely made and bear elaborately
carved, usually anthropomorphic, decorations.
In contrast, the example from La Aleta is rough-
hewn and undecorated.

Hafts, or Helves

The three large hafts, or helves (Figures 13-
16), have straight shafts and presumably served
as handles for petaloid celts made of ground
stone, a common Taino tool. They range in

Conrad, Foster and Beeker

Figure 12. Cohoba vessel (PNE-01-A-0224). Length
13 cm.

length from 36 to 63 cm. Two of the specimens
(PNE-01-A-0226, 0227; Figures 14-16) are
pierced by holes that go all the way through the
head of the shaft. The third specimen (PNE-0 1-
A-0080; Figure 13) has a hole that does not go
all the way through; this example may have
been broken or incompletely manufactured.
Two of the hafts (PNE-01-A-0226, 0227) bear
decoration in the form of a raised band around
the mid-shaft (Figures 14-16).

Before our project began, looters removed
two other hafts from the Manantial (PNE-01-Z-
0014, 0015) that were later recovered by Parque
Nacional del Este personnel. These examples

figure 13. Large natt (FNhI-UI-A-UUoU). Length Jb

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Conrad, Foster and Beeker

Figure 14. Large haft (PNE-01-A-0226). Length 48

Figure 16. Large haft (PNE-01-A-0227). Length 63

Figure 15. Drawing of large haft (PNE-01-A-0226).
Note raised band around the mid-shaft.

Figure 17. Large halt (PNE-0 I-Z-0014) removed trom
the Manantial de la Aleta by looters. Length 48 cm.

Figure 18. Large haft (PNE-01-Z-0015) removed from
the Manantial de la Aleta by looters. Length 30 cm.
(Figures 17-18) are similar to the ones found by
our project and measure 48 and 30 cm long
respectively. Looters also removed a number of
petaloid celts, some of which were reclaimed by
park personnel (Figure 19), and our project has
recovered a fragment of another. To the best of
our knowledge, though, no intact blade/haft
combination has been found in the Manantial to

The small haft (PNE-01-A-0231; Figure 20)
is a curved, sickle-shaped handle 22 cm long.
Its distal end (on the right in Figure 20) has
been notched to permit the attachment of another
piece of the tool, perhaps a small stone celt or a
shell blade. While we surmise that this object is

Figure 19. Petaloid celts removed from the Manantial
de la Aleta by looters (bottom two rows). Caliperjaws
set 1 inch apart; the largest celt (bottom left) is 17 cm

the handle of a woodworking implement, its
exact function is still unknown. Ostapkowicz's
(1998:43-154) review of known Taino wooden

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001


Organic Artifactsftom the Manantial de la Aleta

Organic Artifacts from the Manantial de la Aleta

Figure 20. Small haft (PNE-01-A-0231). Length 22

artifacts does not include any comparable
specimens. Jeffery Walker (personal
communication 2000) has suggested that the
question of function might be resolved by
experimental replication.

Canoe Paddle Blade

The Tainos were skilled mariners who made
dugout canoes in various sizes, ranging from
one-person craft to large vessels capable of
carrying over 100 people. Sven Loven
(1935:417-418) attributed much of the Tainos'
seafaring success to a type of canoe paddle
called a nahe-a meter or more long, with a T-
shaped handle and a lancet-shaped blade. This
distinctive Taino paddle was first described in
Christopher Columbus's log for Saturday 13
October 1492: "They row with a paddle like
that of a baker and go marvelously" (Dunn and
Kelley 1989:69). Columbus's son Ferdinand
described the paddles as being "like baker's

Figure 21. Canoe paddle blade (PNE-01-A-0235).
Length 51 cm. The blade is lancet-shaped; the pointed
tip would have been to the left and the handle to the

Conrad, Foster and Beeker
peels or those used in dressing hemp" (Col6n

In addition to the specimen from La Aleta, at
least eight other Taino paddles are known: four
from the Bahamas, one from Grand Turk
Island, two from Cuba, and one from Haiti (De
Booy 1913:2-5; Harrington 1921:208; Loven
1935:417-419; Ostapkowicz 1998:118-122).
Of these, only one paddle from a cave on
More's Island in the Bahamas (De Booy
1913:2-5), another from a cave near Monte
Cristo, Cuba (Harrington 1921:208), and a
third from a waterlogged deposit on Grand Turk
(Keegan 1997:57-58) have been published in
any detail. The first two of these specimens are
decorated with carved designs on the blade.
Ostapkowicz (1998:119) argues that the quality
of a paddle may have "reflected the status of the
individual paddler or canoe owner, and may
have been personalized with two-dimensional

The example from La Aleta (PNE-01-A-
0235; Figure 21) is a nearly complete blade; the
handle of the paddle and the tip of the blade are
missing. Although it is incomplete, both the
form of the blade and the length of the surviving
portion (51 cm) correspond well to the early
descriptions and the known examples. Unlike
the More's Island and Monte Cristo specimens,
however, the paddle blade from La Aleta lacks
carved designs.

Macana War Club

The macana war club (PNE-01-A-0202;
Figures 22-24) is 79 cm long and appears to be
made of some kind of palm wood. It has a flat
handle with a slim, triangular cross-section like
the blade of a sword and a cylindrical, club-like
head. In these characteristics it matches Las
Casas' description of the war clubs used in
northern Hispaniola and the south coast of Cuba
(Las Casas 1875:I:435, II:57).7 Considered by
early Spanish observers to be the Tainos' most
effective and dangerous weapon, the macana
was swung with both hands and was said to be
capable of crushing a man's skull even if he
was wearing a steel helmet (Oviedo 1851:I:68;

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Organic Artifacts from the Manantial de la Aleta

Las Casas 1875:I:435;
Loven 1935:451-453).8
Ostapkowicz (1998:226)
suggests that in addition to
their utilitarian value as
weapons, macanas may
have been prized symbolic
artifacts that expressed the
power and prestige of their

Insofar as we know, the
macana from the Manantial
de la Aleta is a unique
specimen. Jesse Walter
Fewkes (1907:209) wrote
that he saw several macanas
in the Dominican Republic
that were claimed to be
aboriginal weapons, but his
description is brief and
ambiguous. It is possible
that Fewkes's "macanas"
were actually some other
type of artifact, perhaps
ceremonial staffs or batons,
that may have been
ultimately derived as an
elaboration of the war club
form (Ostapkowicz

Crocodilian Figure

S.. This artifact (PNE-01-A-
0225; Figures 25-26) is a hook-shaped piece 20

Figure 24. Detail of Macana head.

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Figure 23. Detail of Macana handle.

cm. long. Its most striking aspect is its
decoration: the entire object has a crocodilian
form, with snout, eyes, body, and tail. In
Figure 25, the snout is on the left and the eyes
at the upper center, while the body and tail
curve around from the right to the lower center.
The carver took advantage of the natural form of
the wood to create the crocodilian imagery.

This object is most reminiscent of a series of
small wooden artifacts recently discovered at the
Deadman's Reef site on Grand Bahama, which
have been interpreted as zemis (Berman et al.
1999, 2000). In fact, the crocodilian form of
the specimen from La Aleta was first recognized
by Mary Jane Berman, co-director of the
Deadman's Reef excavations. Berman
(personal communication 2000) suggests that
there may be multiple images in this carving
(see Figure 26 for a close-up), as is the case
with the Deadman's Reef specimens and other
Taino artworks (Walker 1997:84-87; Roe
1997:126-127, 148-149).

Figure 25. Crocodilian figure (PNE-01-A-0225); scale
in cm. The crocodilian form is readily apparent.

Figure 22. Macana
war club (PNE-01-A-
0202). Length 79

Conrad, Foster and Becker

Organic Artifacts from the Manantial de la Aleta

Figure 26. Close-up view of the tail of the crocodilian
figure. Additional carved designs may become apparent
under magnification.

Figure 27. Gourd vessels in situ in the Manantial de la

Conrad, Foster and Beeker
Unidentified Fragments

The four unidentified wooden fragments are
small scraps. They appear to be pieces of larger
objects whose forms and functions are not
readily recognizable.

Gourd Vessels

Gourds figure prominently in Taino
mythology (Pane 1999:13-14; Stevens-Arroyo
1988:95-111), and gourd vessels are among the
most common objects in the submerged
deposits at La Aleta (Figure 27).9 To the best of
our knowledge, these gourd artifacts are the
first ones that have been discovered in
prehistoric Caribbean sites. Two fragmentary
vessels have been collected. Both specimens
are tree gourds, Crescentia cujete (Charles B.
Heiser, personal communication 1997; see also
Heiser 1979:15-30). One is plain, but the other
(PNE-01-A-0060; Figures 28-30) is decorated
with incised designs typical of pottery
belonging to the Chican Ostionoid (Chicoid)
subseries (Rouse 1992:110-112). In fact, the
execution of the designs on the gourd is more
careful and symmetrical than on any pottery
vessel we have recovered from the Manantial to


A number of intact baskets have been
observed and photographed in the Manantial
(e.g., Figure 31), the first examples of Taino
basketry discovered archaeologically. To date
only one small fragment of a plain weave basket
(PNE-01-A-0201; Figure 32) has been brought
to the surface; the material has yet to be
identified. This fragment unraveled shortly
after being recovered, preventing further
analyses of its construction except from
photographs (although a sample of the fibers
was submitted for dating; see below). As a
result of this experience, we decided not to
attempt to recover any more basketry until we
could provide on-site conservation, and all of
the other observed baskets-including the one in
Figure 31-have been left in situ.

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Organic Artifacts from the Manantial de la Aleta

Figure 28. Fragments of a gourd decorated with incised designs (PNE-01-A-0060). Note the
similarity to incised designs common on pottery of the Chican Ostionoid subseries. Caliper jaws
set 1 inch apart; the largest fragment measures 10 x 9 cm.

Figure 29. Drawing of a fragment of the incised gourd.
See Figure 28 for scale.

Figure 30. Drawing of a fragment of the incised gourd.
See Figure 28 for scale.

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Conrad, Foster and Becker

Organic Artifacts from the Manantial de la Aleta


Figure 31. Nearly intact basket in the Manantial de la
Aleta. This basket was left in situ.


Samples from six of the artifacts listed
above were submitted to Beta Analytic for
accelerator dating. A seventh sample, taken
from one of the hafts brought up by looters
before our project began (PNE-01-Z-0014),
was also dated. The results are shown in
Table 1.

Figure 32. Basket fragment (PNE-01-A-0201). Scale
in cm.

The generally accepted date for the
florescence of the Classic Taino chiefdoms of
Hispaniola and Puerto Rico is A.D. 1200
(Rouse 1992:102-106, etc.). After A.D. 1200

Religious paraphernalia increased in
number, quality, and size.... The increase
in the quality, size, and frequency of
religious artifacts has been interpreted by
most Caribbeanists as an increase in
religious, political, and social complexity
(Curet 1996:120).

PNE-01- Sample #

flaring bowl A-0164 Beta-
gourd A-0060 Beta-



duho fragment



Z-0014 Beta-
A-0228 Beta-



A-0201 Beta-
A-0202 Beta-

990 + 70 BP

Calibrated date:
2-sigma range
AD 975-1235

940 + 30 BP AD 1020-1180

870 + 60 BP AD 1025-1275

910 + 40 BP AD 1225-1275

680 + 60 BP AD 1250-1410

620 + 70 BP AD 1275-1435

540 + 50 BP AD 1315-1345
AD 1390-1455

Calibrated date:
AD 1035

AD 1045, 1105, 1115

AD 1195

AD 1260

AD 1295

AD 1315, 1345, 1390

AD 1420

Table 1. Radiocarbon Dates from the Manantial de la Aleta. All samples processed by the
accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) method. Calibrations provided by Beta Analytic following
the Beta Analytic/Pretoria Calibration Program [Vogel et al. (1993), Talma and Vogel (1993)].

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001


Conrad, Foster and Becker

Organic Artifacts from the Manantial de la Aleta
The radiocarbon dates from the Manantial de la
Aleta bracket A.D. 1200 by roughly two
centuries on either side. Five of the seven
dates, and four of the five dates on carved
wooden objects, are either pre-1200 or within a
century thereafter. That is, the organic artifacts
recovered so far span the time when the Classic
Taino chiefdoms were developing, and a
number of the wooden objects-including both
duhos-seem to date to the early stages of those


In comparing the wooden artifacts from the
Manantial de la Aleta to the wood sculptures
usually illustrated as exemplifying Taino art
(e.g., Bercht et al. 1997), one is immediately
struck by the simpler, rustic appearance of the
Aleta specimens. The woodcarvings from the
Aleta lack the fine workmanship and elaborate
decorations of the more commonly illustrated
pieces. When one contrasts the Aleta artifacts to
other known examples, the discrepancy in
workmanship and decoration is particularly
apparent in the case of the duhos, the canoe
paddle, and the cohoba vessel. Possible
explanations for the differences include
sampling, function, and chronology, or some
combination of the three, and perhaps other
factors as well.

Sampling Issues

Two kinds of sampling problems may affect
comparisons between the Aleta materials and
other Taino woodcarvings. First, to judge from
the materials recently recovered at La Aleta, Los
Buchillones in Cuba (Pendergast 1997, 1998),
and Deadman's Reef in the Bahamas (Berman et
al. 1999, 2000), it is clear that the commonly
illustrated corpus of Taino wooden artifacts is
hardly a representative sample. Instead, these
latter specimens-whose provenience is usually
imprecise and sometimes no more specific than
an island-are Taino masterpieces. Most Taino
woodwork undoubtedly looked more like the
Aleta artifacts.

Conrad, Foster and Beeker
Second, there may well be sampling
problems within the Aleta materials themselves.
The site has been looted in recent years, and
there are rumors that at least two other duhos,
one of them high-backed, were removed before
our project began. While we cannot confirm
this rumor, it does suggest that looters have
already removed the most elaborate pieces that
were readily recoverable. It may turn out that
when actual underwater excavations, as
opposed to controlled surface collections, are
carried out, more finely made and elaborately
decorated organic artifacts will be found in the

Functional Issues

As Ostapkowicz (1998:568-569) has noted,
if our interpretations are correct, the duhos from
La Aleta are the first to have been recovered
from an offertory context. At least in the case
of symbolically powerful ritual paraphernalia
like duhos, it may be that simpler forms were
preferred for offerings, which essentially
involved the loss of the object being offered. It
is difficult to assess the likelihood of this
possibility at present. It would be contradicted,
however, if more elaborate specimens were
eventually recovered from the Aleta, or if it
could be shown that looters have removed more
ornate specimens in the past.

Chronological Issues

A third possibility is that most of the
wooden specimens recovered from La Aleta are
early, simpler versions of artifacts that became
more elaborate through time. Antonio Curet
(1996) classifies the Taino societies of Puerto
Rico and Hispaniola before A.D. 1200 as
"emerging chiefdoms" and those of the
centuries after 1200 as "mature chiefdoms."
Simpler forms of certain artifacts were typical of
the pre-1200 emerging chiefdoms, while more
elaborate forms characterized the post-1200
mature chiefdoms. The chronological
differences in style were material reflections of
sociopolitical developments, namely increasing
complexity and internal differentiation within
Taino chiefdoms.

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Organic Artifacts from the Manantial de la Aleta

Objects of status differentiation and
possibly evidence of the control of religious
ideology emphasizing the chiefs individual
power seem not to be present until the
Chican Ostionoid subseries [A.D. 1200-
1500]. It is during this time that the most
elaborate religious paraphernalia appeared,
which, according to the descriptions in the
chronicles, was controlled by elite groups
composed mainly of the chiefs, their
assistants, and religious specialists (Curet
1996:126; interpolation added).

The hypothesis that chronological
differences in the style of wooden artifacts
reflect sociopolitical developments can be
further refined. It is generally agreed that
symbolically important and powerful Taino
woodcarvings like duhos were the products of
craft specialists, even though there is
considerable disagreement about who those
specialists might have been (Ostapkowicz
1998:425-426). Furthermore, the manufacture
of ornately carved wooden objects must have
been a time-consuming process. Ostapkowicz
(1998:442-444) interviewed five Puerto Rican
master woodcarvers, asking them how long it
would take to produce a large, elaborate duho
using traditional tools and techniques. Their
answers ranged from three to 18 months, not
counting the time needed to acquire and season
the wood. All but one carver said it would take
at least six months. Hence the creation of
intricately carved wooden artifacts involved a
significant investment of skilled, specialized
labor; presumably it also required subsidizing
that labor through surplus agricultural

Accordingly, one possible explanation for
the simplicity of the Aleta specimens is that in
local Taino society before A.D. 1200, leaders
lacked the political power and control over
resources needed to make sufficient investments
in subsidizing skilled, specialized labor. In
contrast, as the Classic Taino chiefdoms grew
larger and more powerful after A.D. 1200,
caciques may have been better able to subsidize
specialized production, with one result being an

Conrad, Foster and Beeker
elaboration in symbolically important wooden

Curet (1996) has proposed another
possibility, grounded in the distinction between
emerging and mature chiefdoms. In Curet's
argument, emerging chiefdoms are characterized
by a tension between increasing social
differentiation and older, more egalitarian and
communal ideology. Because the position of
emerging elite groups is precarious, they mask
the increasing differences in power by
emphasizing communal rituals and symbolism.
Gradually, as chiefdoms mature and the power
of the elite becomes better established, ideology
comes to emphasize the authority of the elite and
the special role of chiefs (usually as mediators
with the spirit world). This developmental
process is reflected in material culture:

...it is expected that simple, emerging
chiefdoms will present a decrease in the
number and quality of symbolic
representations that reflect personal status,
while complex, "mature" chiefdoms should
show qualitatively and quantitatively
increased differentiation of symbolic
representation (Curet 1996:124).

In this scenario, the issue is not so much
leaders' ability to invest in specialized labor, but
what kinds of production they choose to
subsidize. In emerging chiefdoms, leaders
make investments in the production of items
associated with communal ceremonies and
symbolism rather than personally-specific,
status-reinforcing objects. In mature
chiefdoms, leaders invest more heavily in
subsidizing specialized production that serves
their own ends by creating symbols of
individual status and authority. This argument
would predict that the wooden artifacts from La
Aleta are relatively simple because they were the
products of emerging chiefdoms, not mature

Crucial artifacts for evaluating chronological
hypotheses in general, and the two particular
sociopolitically grounded versions presented
above, are the duho and duho fragment, the

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Organic Artifacts from the Manantial de la Aleta
canoe paddle, and the cohoba vessel. All are
simple examples of types of artifacts that are
mostly known from considerably more
elaborate specimens. Furthermore, as was
discussed in their descriptions, all are examples
of types of artifacts that are believed to have
been strongly associated with individual owners
in the mature Classic Taino chiefdoms of the
centuries following A.D. 1200.

At this point interpretations must remain
tentative, because only some of the wooden
artifacts from La Aleta have been dated. Two
key pieces, the canoe paddle and the cohoba
vessel, are undated. Likewise, virtually all of
the more elaborate specimens commonly
illustrated as examples of Taino woodcarving
are undated (other than stylistically).
Nonetheless, there is some support for
hypotheses that explain formal differences in
terms of chronology and sociopolitical
developments. First, the dates of the wooden
artifacts from La Aleta-most notably the duho
and duho fragment-are generally early within
the time span of Taino chiefdoms. Second, the
undecorated canoe paddle from Grand Turk
Island yielded a radiocarbon date ca. A.D. 1100
(Keegan 1997:58; Ostapkowicz 1998:121).
Finally, one of the elaborate wooden cohoba
vessels from Puerto Rico (Bercht et al.
1997:143, Figure 113) contained some glass
beads when it was found, indicating that it was
used in the post-contact period and was
probably manufactured around A.D. 1500
(Ostapkowicz 1998:115-116). At least in these
few cases where we have something other than
purely stylistic evidence, simpler specimens are
earlier, while more elaborate ones are later.

At present the data from La Aleta offer
tentative support for hypotheses that formal
differences in some types of wooden artifacts
might be chronologically significant, and that
the chronological differences themselves might
reflect sociopolitical developments. As far as
the question of subsidizing specialized
production is concerned-that is, whether the
crucial factor was leaders' ability or leaders'
willingness-at this point evidence from
elsewhere in the Greater Antilles suggests that

Conrad, Foster and Beeker
the issue was one of willingness (Curet 1996).
The evidence from La Aleta itself, however, is
consistent with either interpretation. In fact, the
available data from La Aleta do not preclude the
possibility that sampling and functional
considerations are also involved, along with
chronology. Indeed, sampling, functional, and
chronological factors are not mutually
exclusive, and a combination of them may be
reflected in the Aleta assemblage. It is also
possible that other factors-for example, the
status of the original owners of the artifacts-may
be involved.


While the sample of organic artifacts from
the Manantial de la Aleta is still small and
incompletely understood, for Caribbean
archaeology it constitutes a unique assemblage
from a unique depositional context. Further
investigations will include the identification of
woods and basketry materials, the dating of
additional objects, and the examination of
artifacts under magnification, along with the
collection of a larger and more statistically
significant sample. These studies will have the
potential to reveal new details of Taino
ceremonial life and to provide new insights into
Taino ritual behavior. Included among those
potential insights are new understandings of the
manufacture and meaning of organic artifacts in
Taino culture.

Acknowledgments. This paper is the result of ongoing
collaboration with our colleagues in the Dominican
Republic. We would like to acknowledge their guidance
in helping us to try to understand Taino culture,
prehistory, and archaeology. We are indebted to Marcio
Veloz Maggiolo, Elpidio Ortega, Abelardo Jim6nez
Lambertus, Jos6 Gabriel Atiles, Angel Caba Fuentes,
and the late Dato Pagan Perdomo for all their help and
advice over the past few years. Key governmental
support has been provided by Pedro Morales Troncoso,
Luis Brea Franco, Pedro J. Borrell, Francis Soto, and
Omar Ramirez, as well as the Fuerza A6rea Dominicana.
The administrative staff and rangers of the Parque
Nacional del Este have been extremely helpful and

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

Organic Artifacts fom the Manantial de la Aleta

Our work has benefited greatly from an agreement of
friendship and cooperation between Indiana University
and the Universidad Cat61lica Santo Domingo. We are
grateful to all of our colleagues at the Cat61lica,
especially the university's rector, Father Ram6n Alonso
Beato, and its vice rector, Soledad Aristegui de Vassallo.

The staff at Club Viva Dominicus has been
exceedingly generous in their support of our research.
They have welcomed us as "family," provided room and
board, and given us a place to record and stabilize the
artifacts. We want to recognize Rafael Blanco, Giacomo
Di Lauro, Elena Guerrini, Pierluigi Ferro, Mauro
Scattolin, and our archaeological colleague Adolfo
L6pez, among many others.

Indiana University provided funding for the work
described in this paper in the form of a Strategic
Directions Initiative Grant, with supplemental support
from the university's Office of Research and the
University Graduate School and the School of Health,
Physical Education, and Recreation. Additional funding
was provided by 19th Star Productions, Mr. Jerry
Williams, The Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and
the Eureka Project, directed by Dr. Scott Carroll. We are
grateful to all of these institutions, organizations, and
individuals for their support.

Diving operations at the Manantial de la Aleta drew
on the expertise of many people. We want to
acknowledge Rob Blesser and Paul Caputo of Quiescence
Diving in Key Largo, Florida. Others offering their
services were Stephen James, the late Dick Swete, Rick
McClung, Tom Hodson, Leonard Hunter, Luisa De Pefia
Diaz, Mark Brauner, Amanda Evans, Deke Hager,
Kristen Meier, Randalyn Raj, Robert Richardson, John
Skolak, Kye Tiernan, Cara Trautman, Lynn Uhls, and
Jim Ziegler, along with Joe Clark of Ocean Divers, Inc.,
and Bill Goodwin and John Halas of the Florida Keys
National Marine Sanctuary. Donations of equipment
came from Warn Industries, Mares, Outboard Marine
Corporation, Parr Emergency Products, Luxfer Gas
Cylinders, Pro Air, Mako Breathing Air Systems, and
Panamerican Consultants, Inc.

Special thanks go to Mary Jane Berman, William
Keegan, and Peter Siegel for their helpful comments on
an earlier version of this paper and to Ellen Sieber for
preparing Figures 1 and 5.

Conrad, Foster and Beeker

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Las C.isas. . g1 t .... Historia Sumaria, Book I,
Chapter 3. For the convenience of readers with different
editions of the chronicles, we are including book and
chapter references as notes. See Sauer (1966) and
Wilson (1990) for discussions of the different ways the
aboriginal chiefdoms of Hispaniola have been named
and delimited.
2 Las C -.sas. ij. ,1. ,. ..... Historia Sumaria, Book I,
Chapter 3.
3 Pane, Chapter 12.
4Pane, Chapters 13-15.
5Pand, Chapters 15, 19.
6 Col6n, Chapter 24.
7Las Casas, Historia de las Indias, Book I, Chapters 67,

Conrad, Foster and Beeker

8Oviedo, Book III, Chapter 5; Las Casas, Historia de las
Indias, Book I, Chapter 67.
9Pane, Chapters 9-10.

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 2, 2001

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