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Playa Madama, Samaná Peninsula, the Dominican Republic. Source: Wikipedia
Playa Madama, Samaná Peninsula, the Dominican Republic. Photo: Wikipedia

Who really discovered the Caribbean?

The discovery of an archaic archaeological site in the Dominican Republic questions who were the first settlers of the Antilles.

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When Columbus discovered Hispaniola in 1492, he encountered the Taíno, a people originating from the Orinoco Delta in present-day Venezuela, who migrated to the island in 400 BC. Until now, the Taíno have been considered the first inhabitants of the Caribbean, but in reality there were other peoples living there since prehistoric times, the so-called "archaic" peoples.

However, the discovery of an archaeological site by a team of Italian and Dominican archaeologists on the Samaná Peninsula could change our perception of who they were and where they came from, as reported by the BBC.

Called 'El Pozito,' it is the largest archaeological site of "archaic" peoples in the Dominican Republic, and the findings are 2,000 years old.
Among the most significant are polished stone hammers, pestles and axes, conches and other tools used by the Archaic people. So-called butterfly axes have also turned up, which were likely used for felling trees and making canoes and paddles. A small ceremonial well (35 cm in diameter) was also found with 12 stone mallets buried inside, hardly used except for some plant remains, leading the team to believe that these people also had rituals, a groundbreaking revelation considering how little is known about their way of life.

What the team of archeaologists is really looking for is a necropolis, with burials spanning centuries, to obtain genetic information. 

"I spent 30 years looking for an archaic site like this," said Alfredo Coppa, the archeologist leading the excavations, from Rome's Sapienza University, Coppa has overseen excavations in other places such as Oman, Eritrea, Pakistan, Libya and throughout the Dominican Republic.

The first and last major Archaic discovery on the island occurred in the 1970s in its Southern part. Over the years, the team of archaeologists led by Coppa in conjunction with researchers from the Museum of Dominican Man in Santo Domingo, found butterfly axes scattered around the north, but no sites, leading them to believe that Archaic peoples lived in the South, likely coming from Cuba, the largest island in the Greater Antilles.

But, as the BBC report suggests, the most important questions are: what continent did they come from? Who were they related to? How did they interact and trade with others? And what happened to them?

"They are the true discoverers of the Caribbean, but they have received the least attention from archaeologists," said Dr. Reniel Rodríguez-Ramos, professor of archaeology at the University of Puerto Rico at Utuado. Rodríguez-Ramos has written about how European travel journals at the time of Columbus disoriented archaeologists, who long considered them to be nomadic "fishermen-hunter-gatherers" living in caves along the coast.

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