Friday, May 3, 2019

First Sirenian brain endocast from the Miocene of Cuba

With great pleasure, I announce the recent publication of our paper on the first sirenian endocranial casts yet known from the Caribbean. Our paper, coauthored by the paleontologists Lázaro W. Viñola and Ted Macrini, was published on the specialized Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology this month (link here).


Fossilized brain mold of a Dugongid specimen from Matanzas, Cuba


A resume of the major findings can be read in the abstract:

We report and describe the first sirenian endocranial casts from the West Indies based on three specimens collected from two quarries of the late Oligocene-early Miocene Colón Formation, in the Province of Matanzas, western Cuba. We assign them to Dugongidae incertae sedis, based on a phylogenetic analysis of fossil and extant sirenians. Thus, these new specimens provide a unique opportunity to describe the endocranial neuroanatomy of a long-extinct sirenian. The endocasts suggest a dugongid with limited vision and olfactory, based on the diminished olfactory and optic nerves. Additionally, we provide a geologic reinterpretation of the Colón Formation and its paleoecological setting. Altogether, these data provide further insight into the diversity and evolution of sirenians, especially Caribbean dugongs.

For the interested reader, sirenians are marine mammals which include the manatees of the Atlantic Ocean and the dugongs of the Indo-Pacific Ocean. These aquatic mammals were originally called sirenians because seem by sailors from afar, they looked similar to humans or the famed sirens of mythological lore (example from Homer’s The Odyssey). These extraordinary mammals were also documented by Columbus’s and its chroniclers after 1492 (see our post on the matter here).


Main differences between manatees (Trichechydae) and dugongs (Dugongidae).
From Enciclopedia Britanica.

One of the first fossil sirenians discovered in Cuba was found by a local researcher named Eustaquio Calera, from Matanzas. He discovered few remains in the limestones of the town of Cabezas, on the road to Union de Reyes, in central Matanzas Province, Cuba. The significance of these fossils, however, remained undetected until the archaeologist Manuel Rivero found them while studying Calera’s collection. Rivero pressed the matter to Luis S. Varona, the main mastozoologist in Cuba at the time, who published his accounts in 1972.


Anatomy of one of the dugongid brain molds from Matanzas (Cuba) described
in our paper.

This discovery is significant for several reasons:

The first being, that this is thus far, the first brain mold (endocast) reported from any sirenian in the Caribbean fossil record. Second, it suggests the presence of at least two unknown species yet undescribed from the region. Although the Caribbean basin is known to have been a hotspot of sirenian speciation and evolution since the Eocene (~40 million years ago), these additional species support a higher level of diversity during the last 20 million years or during the Miocene. Last, but not least, these kind of fossils are very rare, and represent a unique phenomenon of fossilization. For an endocast or mold to form, the organism must be covered, almost immediately after death, in sediment. That sediment must be fine enough to invade all the nicks and crannies, including the brain cavity. After that, that parcel of mud must become stone o lithified enough to preserve the specimen it encapsulates.

In nature, these events are extremely rare or very low probability. Making this finding a unique and one of a kind opportunity to study the brain anatomy of long-gone organisms that we can study today only through their fossil matter.

We take this opportunity to thank all those that were involved in our project. The discoverers of the fossils in the quarries and the museum curator that allowed us to study their collections. Many thanks are due to our friends and family who supported us with guidance and critical commentaries that no doubt made our work better. Many thanks to all.

Reference:

Orihuela, J., L. W. Vinola Lopez, and T. Macrini (2019). First cranial endocasts of early Miocene sirenians (Dugongidae) from the West Indies. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 39: DOI:10.1080/02724634.2019.1584565 



Friday, April 5, 2019

Peñas Altas: a forgotten colonial military fortification

Welcome back blog readers. New publication available!
It is with great pleasure once more that I announce the publication of yet another of our papers in the series dedicated to the archaeology and history of the military fortifications of the bay of Matanzas, Cuba. In this occasion, we discuss new evidence – of archaeological, historical and geological nature –pertaining to the battery of Cagigal or Peñas Altas. Demolished in 1962, this battery was converted to a park and nearly forgotten by locals, was named in the honor of one of Cuba’s colonial governors: don Juan Manuel de Cagigal y Martinez, who governed the island from 1819 until 1821.


One of our new discovered fort plans made it to the cover:
Penas Altas battery plan of 1819


 An abstract of the paper reads thus:

The coastal battery of Peñas Altas was the last fortification to complete the defensive system surrounding Matanzas Bay, Cuba. This research offers new information gathered from the analysis of unpublished maps, historical archives, and a preliminary archaeological survey. Such information has allowed us to limit the construction of the fortification between December 1819 and 1820, and not in 1818- 1819 as assumed by traditional historiography. Four important moments in its evolution are identified: planning and construction (1818-1827), remodeling (1840-1850), expansion (1876-1886), and a second remodeling in 1907. Peñas Altas functioned as a military post throughout the nineteenth century, and later became a police station and munition warehouse until its demolition in 1962. Only a few walls and part of the platform remain, however, they represent an important part of the lost heritage with potential for further research and tourism development.

The paper presents several unknown or inedited documents, plans, maps and photographs that record the history of the battery and the changes it underwent through Cuban history. We also explore the preservation of several of its surviving features and the possibility of turning its current state into a historical park.

The article is available on my other pages here, or on the page of the scientific journal Arquitectura and Urbanismo, on which it was published.

Thank you once more for reading and visiting. Stay tuned for more news!



Recommended citation

Hernández de Lara, O., J. Orihuela León & B. Rodríguez Tápanes (2019). Batería de Peñas Altas: apuntes histórico-arqueológicos sobre una fortaleza olvidada (Matanzas, Cuba). Revista científica de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, XV, 1: 5-22.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

New fossil records of triggerfish from the Miocene of Cuba

Exciting news for the Cuban fossil record! A new article was recently published on the journal Historical Biology describing a new species of triggerfish (Balistes vegai) and a new occurrence record for the triggerfish species Balistes crassidens from the Miocene of Matanzas, Cuba. This is an exciting new contribution to the geological and fossil record, particularly the region of Matanzas, and the island of Cuba in general.

The article is co-authored by the Cuban researchers Lazaro W. Viñola and Logel Lorenzo along with the specialist Richard Carr of Montana State University. In it, the authors provide not only the description of the new species but also a revision of the taxonomy and fossil record of the genus.

The fish of the genus Balistes are most diverse in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific Ocean, with a few species occurring also in the Mediterranean and western Atlantic. Two species are currently known from the Caribbean: Balistes vetula and Balistes capriscus. The new species, B. vegai, is so far the largest species described. It was named in honor of Johnny Vega Piloto, a member of the Cuban Speleological Society, who in 2013 discovered the first fossil evidence.


Copyright 2019
Artistic reconstruction of Balistes vegai by Ethan Schmunk showing
an adult B. vegai chasing a juvenile megalodon shark (Otodus megalodon) in Cuban waters. 

Balistes are peculiar fish characterized by an elongated snout, powerful jaws, and teeth that allow them to prey on invertebrates such as sea urchins. These are often aggressive and territorial fishes. Generally, these are not easily digestible by humans since they tend to be toxic. Nonetheless, people eat them in several parts of Cuba and the Caribbean.

Maybe one of the most relevant aspects of this discovery is its implication for the local fossil record, and Caribbean natural history, geology, and paleontology in general. The presence of triggerfish in the Miocene rocks of Cuba suggests the existence of marine ecosystems similar to those exploited by these fish in the region today. Moreover, it supports the hypothesis that a wide, shallow and warm sea existed in what is today the central lowlands and low hills of the Matanzas region, about a dozen million years ago.


Cite:

Viñola, L. W., R. Carr, and L. Lorenzo (2019). First occurrence of fossil Balistes (Tetradontiformes: Balistidae) from the Miocene of Cuba with the description of a new species and a revision of fossil Balistes. Historical Biology DOI: 10.1080/08912963.2019.1580278.

 
Para leer una versión en español, visite nuestro otro blog San Carlos de Matanzas aquí

 
 

Friday, January 25, 2019

New Book: Cuba, Archaeology and Historical Legacy

A new book on Cuban archaeology was presented this past January 25, in the old city of La Habana, Cuba. The event was sponsored by the city of Havana historian's office, the Montane Anthropological Museum and the Cultural Patrimony Council. The title of the work is "Cuba: Arqueología y Legacía Histórica" (Polymita).



This is an important contribution, which in the constellation of other recent works - which includes several important articles and full-length treaties on several themes – gathers some of the most significant minds of Cuban archaeology of the XX and XXI centuries.


The book includes a series of diverse articles touching upon current issues and problematica in the fields of archaeological and historical research in Cuba. There are sections on the interpretation of aboriginal or prehistoric burial practices, use of fauna, and applications of theoretical archaeology; plus, the interpretation of the chronicles penned by conquistadores during the first decades of the colonization. Moreover, it includes an array of classic works on physical anthropology, toolkits and technological usage of wood and mollusks. The contributions provided both by the young and the older, though distinguished, generations of archaeologists. Among them, some of the most renown names in Cuban and Caribbean archaeology.




Within the attendees were the city historians Eusebio Leal Spengler (La Habana) and Ercilio Vento Canosa (Matanzas), the conservator of the city of Matanzas, Leonel Perez Orozco, among other prominent Cuban archaeologists. Presenting were Jorge Garcell of the council of Cultural Patrimony and the photographer - wind beneath the wings of this publication- Julio Larramendi.

Please, join us in congratulating our friends and colleagues, those that made within and outside the covers, for this important contribution.


A complete list of the book’s content is here provided (in Spanish):

PRÓLOGO
José Barreiro

LOS ESTUDIOS SOBRE ARQUEOLOGÍA ABORIGEN EN CUBA: TEORÍAS Y APRECIACIONES
Armando Rangel Rivero
LAS COMUNIDADES ABORÍGENES DE CUBA. CENSO 2013
José Jiménez Santander, Liamne Torres La Paz, Dany Morales Valdés y Lisandra Jiménez Ortega

CRÓNICAS Y CRONISTAS DE INDIAS OCCIDENTALES
Ulises M. González Herrera

VIDA COTIDIANA Y ORGANIZACIÓN SOCIAL DE LAS COMUNIDADES ABORÍGENES DE CUBA
Lillián J. Moreira de Lima

POBLACIÓN ABORIGEN PRECOLOMBINA. DESCRIPCIÓN DE LAS CARACTERÍSTICAS CRANEALES Y LA ESTATURA
Manuel F. Rivero de la Calle

LA ALIMENTACIÓN DE LOS ABORÍGENES DE CUBA
Roberto Rodríguez Suárez y Yadira Chinique de Armas

EL ARTE COMO EXPRESIÓN SOCIAL DE LOS ABORÍGENES DE CUBA
Lourdes Sarah Domínguez González

ANIMALES EN EL ARTE ABORIGEN
Carlos Arredondo Antúnez y Rafael Borroto-Páez
PINTURAS Y GRABADOS RUPESTRES EN EL ARCHIPIÉLAGO CUBANO
Divaldo A. Gutiérrez Calvache y José B. González Tendero

MEDICINA DE LOS ABORÍGENES DE CUBA
Enrique Beldarraín Chaple

LOS BATEYES ABORÍGENES: JUEGO Y RITO EN EL ESPACIO COMUNAL
Daniel Torres Etayo

COSTUMBRES FUNERARIAS: LA MUERTE, EL ESPACIO Y EL TRATAMIENTO DEL CADÁVER EN LAS COMUNIDADES ORIGINARIAS DE CUBA
Jorge Fernando Garcell Domínguez

LOS ABORÍGENES Y EL USO DE LOS MOLUSCOS
Alina Lomba Garmendia y Daniel Torres Etayo

LAS INDUSTRIAS LÍTICAS DE LAS SOCIEDADES ABORÍGENES EN CUBA
Gerardo Izquierdo Díaz

LAS MADERAS EN LOS OBJETOS ABORÍGENES CUBANOS
Raquel Carreras Rivery
LA INDUSTRIA DE LA MADERA DE LOS ABORÍGENES DE CUBA
Gabino La Rosa Corzo

EL ÁREA ARQUEOLÓGICA LOS BUCHILLONES: ZONA EXCEPCIONAL PARA EL CARIBE
Adrián García Lebroc y Jorge Calvera Rosés

EL CHORRO DE MAÍTA
Roberto Valcárcel Rojas

EL LEGADO ARUACO EN EL ESPAÑOL CUBANO
Sergio Valdés Bernal

DESCENDIENTES DE LOS ABORÍGENES CUBANOS
Manuel F. Rivero de la Calle

LA HUELLA ABORIGEN EN EL PATRIMONIO GENÉTICO DE LA NACIÓN CUBANA
Beatriz Marcheco Teruel

ENTREVISTA A ALEJANDRO HARTMAN, HISTORIADOR DE BARACOA Y DIRECTOR DEL MUSEO MATACHÍN

 

Photographs published here are courtesy of personnel of the Oficina del Historiador de La Habana. Most special thanks to Lisette Roura Alvarez (C).

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Survey Question

Why write for an audience that does not like to read? Why try to teach a population that is not interest in learning?

Hi there readers of the blogverse! Please help me explore these questions. If you have answers to these queries please leave a message below.


Nautilus macromphalus (Mollusca: Nautilida) or bellybutton nautilus,
a shelled mollusk from New Caledonia and
the Loyalty Islands of the South Pacific Ocean.