A New Understanding of European and Native Religious Encounters Has Been Discovered through Cave Iconography

Image Credits: University of Leicester
Image Credits: University of Leicester

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester and the British Museum have led a project that’s discovered something amazing. Evidence has been discovered showing how the first European generations that arrived in North America engaged with the people living there and dealt with their spirituality. This evidence was uncovered on a remote island in the Caribbean inside a deep cave.

A Puerto Rican-Anglo team discovered a religious dialogue from years ago that took place between Native Americans and Europeans. Many colonial commentaries and inscriptions were found with writers leaving their names on many.

At least 30 inscriptions were found including Spanish and Latin phrases, named individuals, Christian symbols and dates. These were located in one cave with connecting chambers within an indigenous iconography area. These inscriptions provide a unique insight into religious intercultural dynamics during the time of early America.

Dr. Alice Samson explains that as more archaeometric analysis and interdisciplinary approaches are developed new understandings are coming to light. These new understandings encompass colonial processes that show more than mere domination, oppression and indigenous extinction. This not only shows the difference between official histories and what was discovered but also shows the transformation of cultural identities and the new beginning of religious engagements in the Americas.

Cave Iconography
Image of the cave discovery (Image Credits : University of Leicester)

Dr Jago Cooper from the British Museum led the research team that worked with Dr. Alice Samson from the University of Leicester who has studied this island. According to Dr. Cooper, a new perspective can be found from the research regarding the encounters between first-generation Europeans in the Americas and in the indigenous populations.

The system of caves with spiritual iconography left behind by the indigenous people living there has given new insights regarding the personal context and the tone of the encounter. Researchers wrote a paper showing the formation of cultural identities that were emerging in the Caribbean. These are new understandings that counter previous reports regarding indigenous extinction.

During Christopher Columbus’ second voyage by sea in A.D. 1494 he recorded the island of Mona. Located on a route leading from Europe to America, colonial Spanish projects took place there during the 16th century. The communities on this island were witness to the earliest European waves of impact during a time of intense transformation.

Deciphering the symbols (Image Credits: University of Leicester)

The island has many cavernous regions and approximately 70 different cave systems have been surveyed and explored there since 2013. The caves on Mona Island have the largest and most diverse iconography preserved in the Caribbean. The number of motifs that have been recorded far from the entrance to the cave number in the thousands.

Full research paper has been published in Antiquity and more images of this discovery can be seen here via this gallery.