Saturday, July 9, 2022

Clay tobacco pipes from a late 17th century wreck off Cuba

A new and interesting wreck has been detected off the coast of eastern Cuba by team of archaeologists. The shipwreck contained a small cargo of clay tobacco pipes and ordinance that can be traced to the last decades of the 17th century. These findings are superbly fascinating. Not just for the new information it will bring to the development of marine archaeology on the Cuban archipelago, but because of its cargo of smoking tobacco pipes -some of the oldest yet reported by local archaeology.

The initial findings have been recently presented at the "29 Congreso Asociación Internacional de Arqueología del Caribe", an archaeology meeting that took place in Cuba this past June 30. Thanks to the courtesy of the Cuban researchers Yadira Rojas Espinosa and colleagues, I was integrated into the team to help study those clay tobacco pipes. Here, I extend my gratitude for such an invitation and recognition. 

Here are brief bilingual abstracts of the talk Yadira Rojas gave at the recent "Simposio 9: Arqueología de la esclavitud, Arqueología Histórica y Arqueología Subacuática (Varadero, Matanzas, Cuba)" (= Simposium 9, historical archaeology, subaquatic archaeology and archaeology of slavery). 

Our talk deals with the recognition and preliminary prospecting of the underwater archaeological site, located in Puerto Rico beach, within the municipality of Banes, eastern Cuba. We report the discovery of a cache of smoking tobacco pipes rescued from the site, and provide an approximation of the pipe’s typology, manufacturer marks, seriation (age), and origin. The clay pipes are identified as likely Dutch. Several specimens are visibly marked on their heel, make it possible to establish the chronology of the shipwreck around the last third of the 17th-century. These pipes are particularity relevant for their abundance, whish suggest a small cargo of them, and because pipes of this age have been poorly studied or reported from Cuban archaeological contexts. The finding of this new wreck and our current study of its material remains present a testimony to a period in the 17th century where commercial activity and maritime exchange were protagonists within the colonial dynamics in the Caribbean.

Resumen: La ponencia aborda el reconocimiento y prospección preliminar del sitio arqueológico subacuático, localizado en playa Puerto Rico, municipio de Banes, Cuba. Se expone además los resultados del estudio de un lote de pipas de fumar tabaco rescatado del yacimiento a partir de una aproximación a sus valores tipológicos y morfológicos. La particularidad y relevancia de las pipas de fumar, en este caso holandesas, por su cantidad en el sitio y presencia de marcas visibles en su talón, posibilitan establecer la cronología del naufragio, probablemente en el último tercio del siglo XVII. La investigación histórica y geográfica de este entorno en la costa norte de Cuba, determinó la comprensión del contexto particular del naufragio. Este acercamiento resulta ser testimonio de un período en el siglo XVII donde la actividad comercial y el intercambio marítimo fueron protagonistas dentro de las dinámicas coloniales en el Caribe.

Recommended citation: 

Rojas Espinosa, Y., Rodriguez Buzón, Y., Orihuela León, J., Munoz Varona, R. E. (2022). Estudio de evidencias procedentes de un yacimiento arqueológico subacuático: Naufragio del siglo XVII en playa Puerto Rico, Banes, Cuba. 29 Congreso Asociación Internacional de Arqueología del Caribe (IACA-AIAC): Simposio 9: Arqueología de la esclavitud, Arqueología Histórica y Arqueología Subacuática. El jueves 30 de junio de 2022, de 12:15-12:30pm.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

New book on the history of Matanzas, Cuba

Historia fundacional de Matanzas: los años formativos (1680-1765) from Aspha Ediciones publishing house (ISBN-978-987-3851-33-9), is a book that covers the planning and population process of the city of Matanzas, northeast of Cuba.

The book provides a rich compendium in 584 pages of detailed information, extracted from the documents of the time, on the planning of San Severino, the main fortification, and the settlement system of the region. Several chapters are dedicated exclusively to the migratory process of whole Spanish families (Canary Islands) that emigrated to the island of Cuba and were later selected to populate the new city of San Carlos de Matanzas in 1693. Lists of founders and other families are provided with details about the date of their arrival, precedence in the Canary archipelago, names and surnames, their physical condition and health history, and in some cases even a physical description. Therefore, these data make this work a relevant source of genealogical information for the investigation of Canarian families who emigrated to Cuba at the end of the seventeenth century and their settlement and distribution within the island since then. In addition to this, details of other ethnic groups and migratory groups are provided, with similar detail, which also included the population of the city of Matanzas and the surroundings of its bay.

The book is available here:ón/historia-fundacional-de-matanzas-los-años-formativos-1680-1765/paperback/product-gkngqq.html?page=1&pageSize=4


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

New findings of birds in paleontological and archaeological contexts of Cuba

With great excitement here I announce the publication of another contribution to the archaeology and paleontology of the island of Cuba. On this occasion as a collaborator to Osvaldo Jimenez, zooarchaeologist, a specialist from the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana, Cuba. Our paper came out today on the scientific journal Novitates Caribaea, available here:

We take this opportunity to extend our thanks to Roger Arrazcaeta Delgado, Raúl Mesa Morales, Marcos A. Acosta Mauri, Gabinete de Arqueología, Oficina del Historiador de La Habana (OHH), Jorge A. Garcell Domínguez, Consejo Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural (CNPC); William Suárez Duque, P.O. Box 16477, West Palm Beach, Florida 33165, USA.; S. L. Olson, Megan Spitzer y Christina A. Gebhard, Division of Birds, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA; Peter Capainolo, Division of Birds, American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA.
Arredondo´s owl (Pulsatrix arredondoi). 

Bilingual abstract: 

 This paper provides new records on Cuban birds such as the endemic Cuban macaw (Ara tricolor), found in two archaeological sites in Old Havana dated in the 17th and 18th centuries. We provide details on Arredondo´s owl (Pulsatrix arredondoi), extinct since prehistory, but whose remains have been collected in two caves near Las Charcas, a community in San José de las Lajas municipality, Mayabeque province. The report also includes the ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), from a specimen collected in Cueva del Aguacate in the above-cited location. The bone remains found in Cueva de Las Charcas match a paleontological context, but the other was found in la Cueva de los Muertos, an archaic culture archaeological site (i.e., hunter-fisher-gatherers). The possibility that P. arredondoi formed part of this pre-Columbian aboriginal’s diet is considered. The record of C. principalis represents the first finding of this species in paleontological contexts in Cuba. Information on the natural history of the species is moreover provided. 


 Se comentan nuevos registros de aves de Cuba, como el guacamayo cubano (Ara tricolor), hallado en dos sitios arqueológicos de La Habana Vieja, de los siglos XVII y XVIII, asimismo, el búho de Arredondo (Pulsatrix arredondoi), ave extinta en tiempos prehistóricos, cuyos restos hemos colectado en dos cuevas de la comunidad Las Charcas, municipio San José de las Lajas, provincia Mayabeque, y por último, el carpintero real (Campephilus principalis), colectado en la Cueva del Aguacate, sitio localizado también en la comunidad Las Charcas. El resto óseo de P. arredondoi colectado en la Cueva de Las Charcas procede de un contexto paleontológico. En cambio, el otro resto proviene de la Cueva de los Muertos, que es un sitio arqueológico de aborígenes arcaicos, también conocidos como apropiadores mesolíticos. Por vez primera se considera la posibilidad de que P. arredondoi formara parte de la dieta de los aborígenes precolombinos citados. El registro de C. principalis representa el primer hallazgo de esta especie en contextos paleontológicos de Cuba. Adicionalmente se aporta información novedosa sobre la historia natural de las especies tratadas. 


 Jiménez, O. & Orihuela, J. (2021) «Nuevos hallazgos de aves en contextos paleontológicos y arqueológicos de Cuba», Novitates Caribaea, (17), pp. 163-176. doi: 10.33800/nc.vi17.251.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

New findings! A novel Late Holocene Fauna from Cuba

A new contribution to the vertebrate paleontology of Cuba has been recently published in the scientific journal Palaeontologia Electronica this month. It includes an array of last occurrence dates for some of the extinct species and isotope analysis of environmental and past climate. Open access here!

Palaeontologia Electronica: 23(3):a57

Copyright Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, December 2020

I want to take the time to thank the coauthors, Ricardo Viera, Leonel Perez Orozco, Jorge Alvarez, and Candido Santana for over a decade of research and fieldwork. Also, Jorge Garcell, Adrian Tejedor, the Speleological Society of Cuba, and the speleo-group Norbert Casteret; this last discovered and first explored the site in 1986. 


The discovery of a cave deposit rich in small land vertebrate, in western Cuba, provided an exceptional opportunity to study the changes in the regional fauna. The species discovered there included many currently rare, unreported, globally extinct, locally extinct, and vulnerable species. Several of the extinct species were subjected to radiocarbon dating and isotope chemical analysis to understand their age, diet, and paleoenvironments. These analyses indicated that the deposit formed from raptor-derived pellets, such as owl vomitus or roosting activities within the cave during the last 2000 years. Others were of organisms that commonly inhabit and die in caves. The radiocarbon dates provided a last appearance time frame for several of Cuba’s extinct mammals. Isotope analyses and faunal composition support the former presence of diverse habitats, including palm grove savannas and mixed woodlands, and a shift from colder-drier local conditions to warmer and wetter conditions, with a more intense colder-drier period between 660 and 770 AD. Our findings further expand the understanding of Cuban Quaternary extinction episodes and provide data on the distribution and paleoecology of extinct taxa that is useful to both Cuban and Caribbean researchers in general. It supports the conclusion that many Cuban extinct species survived well into the pre-Columbian Late Holocene and retained wide distribution ranges until European colonization.

Resumen en Español

Fauna de microvertebrados del Holoceno tardío de la Cueva de los Nesofontes, Cuba: Estratigrafia, cronología, diversidad y paleoecología

Aquí reportamos un depósito rico en fósiles del Holoceno tardío en la Cueva de los Nesofontes, provincia de Mayabeque, Cuba. La formación del depósito y su fauna fueron estudiadas a través de un enfoque multidisciplinario que incluyó análisis de isótopos estables, cronología de radiocarbono y estratigrafía. Se recuperaron miles de restos esqueléticos de microvertebrados que representan una diversa fauna de vertebrados terrestres, incluyendo especies amenazadas y extintas. El depósito se caracterizó por abundantes restos de Nesophontes debido a la depredación de rapaces. Se proporcionan fechas de última aparición no reportadas previamente para la especie extinta Nesophontes major, los murciélagos Artibeus anthonyi y Phyllops vetus. Se obtuvieron estimaciones de edad de radiocarbono (14C AMS) entre ~ 1960 rcyr BP y el presente para los depósitos estudiados. La presencia de especies localmente extintas, incluido el catey Psittacara eups, el carpintero Colaptes cf. fernandinae, el murciélago Antrozous koopmani y el almiquí Solenodon cubanus, sugieren que estas especies tuvieron distribuciones más amplias en el pasado reciente. Los análisis de isótopos y la composición de la fauna indican la presencia de diversos hábitats, entre ellos sabanas con palmerales y bosques mixtos cerca de la cueva. Los isótopos también proporcionan información sobre el hábitat y la coexistencia del murciélago extinto Artibeus anthonyi y el A. jamaicensis aun existente, la dieta de Nesophontes major y las condiciones paleoambientales locales. Los isótopos de oxígeno revelaron una excursión que sugiere condiciones locales más secas/más frías entre 660 y 770 d.C. Nuestra investigación amplía aún más la comprensión de los episodios de extinción del Cuaternario cubano y proporciona datos sobre la distribución y paleoecología de taxones extintos. Apoyamos la conclusión de que muchas especies extintas cubanas sobrevivieron hasta bien entrado el Holoceno tardío precolombino y se conservaron amplios rangos de distribución hasta la colonización europea.

Late #Holocene #cave assemblage from #Cuba suggests extinct species widespread prior to European colonization

Johanset Orihuela, Leonel Pérez Orozco, Jorge L. Álvarez Licourt, Ricardo A. Viera Muñoz, and Candido Santana Barani …

Copyright Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, December 2020

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Our new paper on Greater Antillean land mammal extinctions is published!

With great pleasure (and relief after nearly a decade of research) here I announce the publication of our paper Assessing the role of humans in Greater Antillean land vertebrate extinctions: New insights from Cuba on the journal Quaternary Science Review. Also, here is a link for its free download to all parties interested, in the next fifty days. 

I take this opportunity to thank all the coauthors of this paper, Ángelo Soto Centeno, Lázaro W. Viñola, Osvaldo Jiménez, Odlanyer Hernández de Lara, Logel Lorenzo, and Alexis Mychajliw – all respected specialists in their fields – for their significant contribution and participation in making this dream come true. Thank you. 

Here is a brief abstract: 

The Caribbean archipelago is a hotspot of biodiversity characterized by a high rate of extinction. Recent studies have examined these losses, but the causes of the Antillean Late Quaternary vertebrate extinctions, and especially the role of humans, are still unclear. Previous results provide support for climate-related and human-induced extinctions, but often downplaying other complex bio-ecological factors that are difficult to model or to detect from the fossil and archaeological record. Here, we discuss Caribbean vertebrate extinctions and the potential role of humans derived from new and existing fossil and archaeological data from Cuba. Our results indicate that losses of Cuba’s native fauna occurred in waves: one during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, a second during the middle Holocene, and a third one during the last 2 thousand years, combining the arrival of agroceramists and later of Europeans. The coexistence of now-extinct species with multiple cultural groups in Cuba for over 4 thousand years implies that Cuban indigenous non-ceramic cultures exerted far fewer extinction pressures to native fauna than the later agroceramists and Europeans that followed. This suggests a determinant value to increased technological sophistication and demographics as plausible effective extinction drivers. Beyond looking at dates of first human arrival alone, future studies should also consider cultural diversity with attention to different bioecological factors that influence these biodiversity changes. 


Cuban land mammal extinctions occurred in several waves after the middle Holocene, most intensively during the last 2000 thousand years

Cuba lost nearly half of its land mammal fauna during the late Amerindian subinterval (< 1500 thousand years)

Most important extinction episodes occurred after the arrival of agroceramist cultures, and later, Europeans

Cultural diversity, demographics, technological sophistication, and naturally occurring factors must be considered in human-induced extinction models

Future extinction models must consider the complex and concomitant combination of bioecological and climatological factors

[in Spanish]

Con gran gusto – y después de casi una década de investigación – anunciamos la publicación de nuestro artículo “Assessing the role of humans in Greater Antillean land vertebrate extinctions: New insights from Cuba” (Evaluación del papel de los seres humanos en la extinción de vertebrados terrestres de las Grandes Antillas: nuevas perspectivas desde Cuba) en la prestigiosa revista Quaternary Science Review. Aprovechen y compártanlo con los amigos y colegas que les interesen estos temas. Tomo este momento para agradecerle a los coautores Ángelo Soto Centeno, Lázaro W. Viñola, Osvaldo Jiménez, Odlanyer Hernández de Lara, Logel Lorenzo y Alexis Mychajliw por su arduo trabajo y participación en hacer este sueño realidad.

Resumen del trabajo:

El archipiélago caribeño es un “punto caliente” de biodiversidad caracterizado por una alta tasa de extinción. Los estudios recientes han examinado estas pérdidas, pero las causas de las extinciones de vertebrados del Cuaternario tardío de las Antillas, y especialmente el rol de los seres humanos, aún no están claros. Los resultados anteriores brindan apoyo a las extinciones inducidas por el hombre, pero a menudo se minimiza otros factores bioecológicos que son difíciles de modelar o detectar a partir del registro arqueológico o fósil. Aquí discutimos las extinciones de vertebrados en las Antillas Mayores y el papel que han jugado los humanos en las extinciones más recientes desde la perspectiva de datos arqueológicos y paleontológicos de Cuba. Nuestros resultados apoyan la hipótesis de que las pérdidas de la fauna nativa de Cuba ocurrieron en ondas: una durante el Pleistoceno tardío y el Holoceno temprano, una segunda durante el Holoceno medio, y una tercera durante los últimos 2 mil años. Estos dos milenios resultan ser los más importantes, combinando la llegada de los agroceramistas y luego de los europeos como importantes golpes a la fauna. La coexistencia de especies ahora extintas con múltiples grupos culturales en Cuba por más de 4 mil años implica que las culturas indígenas no-ceramistas ejercieron menos presiones de extinción sobre la fauna nativa que las agroceramistas y los europeos que siguieron. Esto sugiere un valor determinante para la sofisticación tecnológica y la demografía vías importantes de extinción. Más allá de mirar las fechas de la primera llegada humana, los estudios futuros también deben considerar la diversidad cultural y atención a diferentes factores bioecológicos que influyen en los cambios de biodiversidad.

Recommended citation:

Orihuela, J., Viñola, L.W., Jiménez Vázquez, O., Mychajliw, A., Hernández de Lara, O., Lorenzo, L. and, Soto-Centeno, J. A. (2020a). Assessing the role of humans on Greater Antillean land vertebrate extinctions: new insights from Cuba. Quaternary Science Reviews, 249: