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.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Local practices did not often follow royal orders

Our new article is out, published in the Cuban traditional journal Islas. This specialized magazine divulges studies in humanities and social sciences and has been in existence since 1958 when it was first edited and coordinated by Samuel Feijoo. Today, its base is located in the Universidad Central “Marta Abreu” of Las Villas, in central Cuba.

Main drawbridge to the Castillo de San Severino, Matanzas city, Cuba

The article deals with the earliest and lest known history of the Castillo de San Severino, the cities’ oldest building and the main reason for the city’s official foundation. Most especially, it drives home the point that many of the ordinances, related to the Castillo’s construction and the city’s foundation, although painstakingly designed and ordained in such manner by the crown, where not fully obeyed by the local officials. This likely mirrors the situation, not just in rural Cuba, but also in its major cities and throughout the New World, far from the Spanish Crown. This was likely the cause of differences in what the crown thought best for its subjects and colonies, and what the inhabitants of those colonies actually needed or felt it was to their best interest.

Here is a brief abstract

Castillo de San Severino in Matanzas had a construction standstill that lasted between 1694 and 1716. The historiography of the fort during these years pointed to the lack of funds to maintain a stable labor and materials for its construction as the main cause of the standstill. However, primary documents, including one by Juan de Síscara, assistant engineer to the viceroy of Mexico in 1696, points to other common factors for such delay of construction. In this way, our study provides new information and a new interpretation on one of the least known years of the construction of San Severino, plus insight into the political dynamics that influenced the construction and maintenance of Cuban military entities during the late 17th Century.

The article can be downloaded for free at Islas or here. On that note, I send out a happy birthday to all my friends from La Habana, a city that turns 499 years today.

Citation:

Orihuela, J., O. Hernández de Lara & R. Viera Muñoz (2018). Órdenes reales y prácticas locales: el Castillo de San Severino de Matanzas y la dinámica colonial (1683-1698). Islas 60 (191): 39-68.

 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Matanzas’s City turns 325

For the town of San Carlos de Matanzas, the month of October if full of celebration. It was on that month, in 1693, that the city was officially founded. This year, however, it was more special than ever thanks to the herculean efforts of the Conservator’s Office and its many workers, who have restored the historical part of the city to its colonial splendor and glamour.


Front cover of Revista Matanzas, where our article is featured

In celebration of this historical moment, albeit local and personal, we contributed with a small publication on the local magazine Matanzas. In it, we published a small piece on Matanzas's first coat of arms. Unknown until now was the revelation that the governor Severino de Manzaneda, who founded de city in October 1693, had provided the city with an official coat of arms since 1694, which was approved by the crown in 1698, but unfortunately forgotten by local and crown officials until 1828, when the colonial shield was redesigned.


Colonial Coat of Arms given by the Spanish Crown to the city of Matanzas, 1828,
Courtesy of the Archivo General de Indias.

Although this may seem trivial, the coat of arms of Matanzas has been seen as a unifying symbol, first of its relationship to the Spanish crown and then to the Republic. More interestingly, it was previously unreported or unknown by local and national historians. Thus, this little note added a little piece of history, which was lost amongst the old archive papers in Seville, providing a different hue to our local history's color. Moreover, it adds to the poorly studied Cuban and Novohispanic heraldry.

That article can be accessed for free here. Other posts on Matanzas history can be accessed here.

Stay tuned for more updates on fossils and old documents!

Article can be sited as:

Orihuela León, J., R. A. Viera Muñoz & L. Pérez Orozco (2018). El blasón desconocido: Primer escudo de San Carlos de Matanzas. Revista Matanzas XIX (1/2): 7-11.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Featured article: Clay Tobacco Pipes from a Colonial Refuse Deposit in Fort San Severino, Matanzas Province, Cuba

Hello blog readers, here I provide a link to our article "Clay Tobacco Pipes from a Colonial Refuse Deposit in Fort San Severino, Matanzas Province, Cuba" published on the International Journal of Historical Archaeology, which Spinger Nature has kindly allowed us to share.

This article deals with the identification of clay tobacco pipes used for smocking by prisoners and soldiers of the fort's garrison between the late XVIII and through the middle XIX century. This small collection of smocking pipes, as personal portable objects, speak volumes to the pastime activities available at the fort. More so, it provides a small window into the origin and circulation of pipes.

Visit the link below to read more!

https://rdcu.be/6hvK

Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Updated list of Cuba’s extinct birds

Cuba had a former, richly diverse bird fauna, most of which is today extinct. In the recent years, the known species have seen revisions, additions, and deletions that have changed the topography of the species' roster. For the benefit of all those interested, here I provide an actualized list of Cuba’s extinct birds reflecting those changes.

This has been the recent topic of an article I have now submitted to an ornithological journal with the hopes that it may aid my peers in understanding the diversity of long-gone Cuban birds. But most especially, my intent has been to divulge in a single compendium an actualized list that reflects those recent changes.

Update: this paper is now published and available at the journal Ornitologia Neotropical here.

Much work it is jet to be done, and with the interesting new deposits being explored and researched in the Greater Antillean island of Hispaniola and The Bahamas, it would not surprise me to see Cuban species, even some of those we today consider endemics, appear in those contexts.


With that said, here is the list:
 
Supercohort: Dinosauria

Class: Aves

Order: Pelecaniformes

Family: Ardeidae Leach, 1820

(Herons and egrets)

Tigrisoma mexicanum Swaison 1834, reported by Olson & Suarez (2008). This is a Tiger-heron.

 

Order: Ciconiiformes

Family: Ciconiidae J. E. Gray, 1840
(Cranes)

Ciconia lydekkeri (Ameghino 1891), is considered a senior synonym of C. maltha (L. Miller 1910:440) by Agnolin (2009).
 
Ciconia sp. This species was mentioned by Suárez & Olson (2003a: 151) .


Mycteria wetmorei Howard 1935: 253. (See Iturralde et al. 2000; Suárez & Olson 2003a).

 

Order: Incertae Sedis or Accipitriformes

Family: Teratornithidae L. Miller, 1909
(large, near flightless terrestrial raptor birds)

Oscaravis olsoni (Arredondo & Arredondo 1999:16) (=Teratornis olsoni) amended and redescribed by Suárez & Olson (2009:106).


Order: Accipitriformes or Cathartiformes

Family: Cathartidae Lafresnaye, 1839
(vultures and condors)

Gymnogyps varonai (Arredondo 1971:310) (=Antillovultur varonai). Amended by Suárez (2000a).

Cathartes sp. 1 or Cathartidae indet. 2. See Suárez (2001c:110).

 

Family: Accipitridae Vieillot, 1816
(hawks and falcons)

Amplibuteo woodwardi (L. Miller 1911:312), reported in Suárez (2004).

Buteo lineatus (Gmelin 1788:268), reported in Suárez & Olson (2003b).

Buteogallus borrasi (Arredondo 1970) =Aquila borrasi Arredondo (1970) amended by Suárez & Olson 2007.

Black-Chested Buzzard Eagle Geranoaetus melanoleucus Swan, 1922:67. Reported by Alexander Wetmore (1928).

Gigantohierax suarezi Arredondo & Arredondo 1999: 10. Now includes specimens previously identified as Aguila borrasi (=Buteogallus borrasi).

Caracara creightoni Brodkorb 1959:353, reported by Suárez & Olson (2003c:306).

Milvago carbo Suárez & Olson 2003:302.

Milvago sp. from Suárez & Arrendondo (1997).

Falco femoralis Temminck 1922:121. This Aplomado falcon was reported by Suárez & Olson (2003b).
 
Aplomado Falcon (Falco femoralis) near the town of Tinke, at the foot of the majestic Ausangate Mountain, Peru.

Falco kurochkini Suárez & Olson 2001a:35.

 

Order: Gruiformes

Family: Gruidae Vigors, 1825
(storks)

Grus cubensis (Fischer & Stephan 1971a:565).

 

Family: Rallidae Rafinesque, 1815

Nesotrochis picapicensis (Fischer & Stephan 1971b:595), revised and amended by Olson (1974). This is an endemic near-flightless Cuban rail. Puerto Rico had a similar species.

 

Order: Charadriiformes

Family: Burhinidae Mathews, 1912

Burhinus sp. reported by Oscar Arredondo (1984). This is another form of water bird called the Double-striped Thick-knee that lives in Central and South America.

 

Family: Scolopacidae Rafinesque, 1815

Gallinago kakuki by Steadman & Takano (2016: 348). Formerly Capella sp. (Suárez 2004a). This is a type of sandpiper or snipe.
 

Order: Psittaciformes

Family:  Psittacidae Rafinesque, 1815

Ara tricolor Bechstein 1811:64 (= A. cubensis of Wetherbee, 1985). The Cuban macaw:  see my previous post on this species here.

 

Family: Tytonidae Ridgway, 1914

Tyto noeli Arredondo 1972a: 416. This species new included Tyto neddi of Steadman & Hilgartner (1999) from Barbuda. This is a large barn owl, like the other species listed below.

Tyto pollens Wetmore 1937:436. This taxon now includes Tyto riveroi Arredondo 1972b: 131.

Tyto cravesae Suárez & Olson 2015: 544.

Tyto sp. A small species reported by Suárez & Díaz-Franco (2003: 375).

 

Family: Strigidae Leach, 1820

Bubo osvaldoi Arredondo & Olson 1994:438.

Pulsatrix arredondoi Brodkorb, 1969: 112.

Ornimegalonyx oteroi Arredondo 1958: 11.

Ornimegalonyx acevedoi Arredondo, 1982: 95.

Ornimegalonyx minor Arredondo, 1982: 46.

Ornimegalonyx gigas Arredondo, 1982: 47.

It is likely that all Ornimegalonyx represent a single species. Their size disparity could be due to sexual dimorphism, chrono-temporal or/and individual variation (Alegre 2002).

 

Order: Caprimulgiformes

Family: Caprimulgidae Vigors, 1825

Siphonorhis daiquiri Olson, 1985:528. This is the endemic pauraque or Cuban Poorwill, a species of nightjar.

 

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Rhinocryptidae Wetmore, 1930

Scytalopus sp. reported by Olson and Kurochkin (1987). This is a small passerine bird commonly known as "tapaculo".

 

Family: Icteridae

Dolichonyx kruegeri Fischer & Stephan (1971: 597). This is likely a misidentified specimen of Bobolink (D. oryzivorus), an uncommon transient species in Cuba (Garrido & Kirkconnell 2000: 218).
 
 
 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ara tricolor: Cuba's extinct endemic macaw

Up to 150 years ago Cuba possessed three parrots in its avifauna-one of them a large and beautifully colored macaw.


Watercolor of the Cuban macaw Ara tricolor circa 1800 by Jacques Barraband,
a French zoological illustrator. From the Cuban macaw Wikipedia.
 
Parrots belong to the bird family Psittacidae, of which Cuba has two representative genera and species: the endangered Cuban conure Psittacara eups (=Aratinga), and the better widespread Cuban parrot Amazona leucocephala. Up to the mid-XIX, Cuba also had a large macaw, Ara tricolor. The last known pair was shot in 1864 at La Vega, in the Cienaga de Zapata-the largest wetland swamp of the Caribbean archipelago. The ornithologists Johannes Gundlach and C. B. Cory believed that this species survived up until the later XIX century. In Spanish, these large parrots are known as guacamayos, which is the Arawak indian name, or papagayos, the Castilian.


Oil on canvas: "A moorhen, a gull, and a Scarlet Macaw by a stream in a landscape" by Philip Reinagle
circa early XIX century.

Scientist recognize that other large Ara macaws existed in other islands of the Caribbean, but the Cuban macaw is the only one known from complete specimens, preserved as stuffed, mounted, or skins, and several skeletal parts found in paleontological and archaeological deposits.


Painting of Ara tricolor by Francois-Nicolas Martinet, in 1765.

Colonists that came to the island after Columbus’s rediscovery of the New World, documented the massive killings of these birds by amerindians, but mostly by conquistadors, who used them for food, plumage, or kept them as pets. In one occasion, Father Bartolome de las Casas records a mass killing of macaws at the indian town of Casaharta in 1513 by the natives for the sake of the colonists:

“[my translation] …the many things marvelous and abundance of food from many sources, bread and game, and fish, but above all of macaws, which if I have not forgotten, during the 15 days that we were there, at least 10,000 macaws were eaten. These were of the most beautiful in the world, which was a real shame to see them killed. Even the little native kids would climb trees to catch them…”
 
Las Casas also recorded the presence of a “different” macaw, with a white, not red, forehead on the island of Hispaniola. He mentions that when Columbus reached the island of Cuba, “nice, green macaws” were gifted to him by the natives (Las Casas, 1875:296, vol. 1). The colonists accepted these gifts, and many macaws were sacrificed for their beautiful feathers, which were to be sent to Spain as exotic souvenirs. 
 
Mounted specimen of the Cuban macaw from the RMNH.
Naturalis Biodiversity Center.
 
It seems, by these accounts, that the Caribbean amerindians were also fond of keeping parrot pets. Yet still, during these early years of the conquest, “there were so many flocks of parrots, that they covered the sun”. This was not to last past the colonial era.
 
Illustration by the Cuban zoological illustrator Otton A. Suarez (1974) from
Las Aves de Cuba: Especies Endemicas (1980) by Orlando A. Garrido.
This is the same specimen from the Institute of Ecology and Systematics, in Havana, below.

The causes of its final extinction are closely tied to human pressure: overhunting at first, and later, deforestation for agricultural development, most intensified during the XVIII and early XIX. During this time, the king’s preserves of forests were maintained and untouched until then by Real decree and accessed only illegally or under special grant by the king. But with the massive onset of agriculture deforestation for tobacco and sugar cane plantations likely drove these large birds to the few remaining forests of the island, Cienaga de Zapata being one of them, and one of the most protected even now. It was at these locations that a few naturalists secured the last specimens, treasures of American and European museums. Sadly, the only surviving mounted skin of Ara tricolor in Cuba was recently stolen from the Institute of Ecology and Systematics (IES) in the outskirts of the city of Havana. This was a gorgeous well-preserved specimen collected by Johannes Gundlach, and one of the most treasured specimens of the old Academy of Sciences, which are now housed at the Institute.
 
Cuban macaw Ara tricolor from the National Museum
of IES in Havana, Cuba.
This specimen has been recently lost or stolen.
Courtesy of A. Tejedor.
 
These rare representatives of Cuban macaws belong in museums, were they are taken care by specialists, people who have studied their whole lives to preserve specimens such as these, and where they are kept under special conditions, and where they can be studied by those that are interested. They do not belong in some collector’s cabinet. It is only hoped that the final itinerary of this specimen is secured, and that the collector protects the beautiful mounted specimen with the dignity it deserves-for the rarity it represents, and as a reminder of the vulnerability of the Earth’s fauna before human destructiveness.

 

Bibliography


De Las Casas, Bartolomé (1560/1875). Historia de las Indias. Vol. 1-4. Imprenta de Miguel Ginesta (Press), Madrid.

Gundlach, J. C. 1876. Contribución a la ornitología cubana. Imprenta La Antilla, La Habana, 364 pp.

Gundlach, J. C. 1893. Ornitología cubana. Imprenta La Moderna, La Habana, 357 pp.

Wetmore, A. (1928). Bones of birds from the Ciego Montero deposit of Cuba. American Museum Novitates 301: 1-5.

Wiley, James W. and G. M. Kirwan (2013). The extinct macaws of the West Indies, with special reference to Cuban macaw Ara tricolor. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 132 (2):125-156.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Rodents gnaw bones

Rats eat dead bodies; be it human or another organism. These animals are mostly plant eaters, but mice and rats have evolved to ingest human waste, meat, fat, and including bones. This behavior is peculiar and important to us, those that study bones from the fossil or archaeological record.



Figure 1. Extensive gnawing by gray squirrels Sciurus carolinensis. Note the parallel, fan-shaped grooves.

Many organisms are instantly attracted to human waste and trash. Also to animal and human burials. It seems that rodents are attracted to the bones the most, which they gnaw and chew to acquire calcium salts and other nutrients. Gnawing also helps them file their ever-growing teeth.

This physical activity leaves physical evidence: characteristic, almost unmistakable, double grooved, fan-shaped marks on the objects they gnaw. For paleontologists, archaeologist, and forensic anthropologists, these marks are important and diagnostic of burial conditions, timing, and environment.



Figure 2. Gnaw-marks made by the Brown rat Rattus norvegicus. Note and compare to figure 1.
The grooves made by mice and rats are much straighter, and closely packed, with a smaller width.


Research during the past decades has shown that these marks are tell-tell signs of exposure and scavenger activity. A cadaver that is exposed, or unburied, attracts dogs, raccoons, and rodents, which eat, chew, and gnaw the parts that are exposed, available, or that are most attractive to them, leaving their markings behind. Several of them, like the African porcupine, take bones back to their burrow, where over the years, a collection or cache of bones builds up. These animals are modifiers, and their modifications can help determine how long those remains were unburied and who had access to scatter them.

In the case of rats, it had been assumed that they were most attracted to old, dry bones. But evidence from human and animal cadavers had been contradictory. A recent article, “Rodents as Taphonomic Agents” by Walter E. Klippel and Jennifer A. Syntelien, discuss this very issue. They found that in fact, rats are most attracted to fresh bones, especially those that still preserve yellow marrow, and fat. Remains with these characteristics are usually less than 30 months old, even under direct exposure to the elements and other modifiers. Their experiment showed that rats and canids (dog family), preferred fresh remains; usually, those that were less than a year old.

On the other hand, experiments on body farms, show that other rodents like squirrels do prefer older, dry bones, that have been exposed over several years. This is important because it can provide a confirmable timetable to estimate time of deposition and exposure for remains that bear these markings. For forensic anthropologists, the identification of these marks (along with other indicators such as insects and vegetation) can provide a time-since death, in the case of human cadavers resulting from accidents or homicides. For paleontologists and archaeologists like me, they can provide evidence of a nearby scavenger fauna, or proximity of several scavengers to human dwellings, and the approximate time of burial or exposure for those remains. Overall, providing much more information that can be gleaned from the bones alone.


Figure 3. Rodent marks made by a Cuban hutia (likely the large Capromys sp.), on a extinct hutia's femur shaft.
Note that there are characteristic, smaller, perpendicular striations.

We have found similar markings in Cuban archaeological deposits, but these are not referable to rats or squirrels since these rodents are not native to the island. However, they are referable, based on size, to the Cuban native hutias; rodents of the family Capromyidae, with several endemic species on the island. These markings suggest that hutias also were attracted to indocuban refuse, where they could gnaw on bones. The variation in the size of the marks also suggests that more than one species gnawed on refuse bone-remains that Cuban Indians discarded. Our evidence indicates that capromyid rodents were the most important bone dispersers and modifiers on the archaeological and paleontological deposits of the island much before Columbus rediscovered the New World (see Orihuela, Jimenez and Garcell, 2016).


Figure 4. Rodent gnaw marks on the distal end of an extinct hutia's tibia.
These smaller marks were likely made by a medium sized hutia, spiny rat
from Cuba's extinct fauna.

But how quickly did they seek out the bones? Or for how long were the remains available for these rodents? What role did the introduction of domesticated dogs affect these natural processes? We do not have concrete answers for these questions yet, but we have research on the way that can help clarify some of these issues and their importance in the study of the past and for historical sciences.

Stay tuned to find out!





Here is a brief bibliography for those that would like to read these interesting articles:


Fisher, J. W. (1995). Bone surface modifications in zooarchaeology. Journal of Archaeological Methods and Theory 2(1): 7-68.


Haglund, W. D. (1992). Contributions of rodents to postmortem artifacts of bone and soft tissue. Journal of Forensic Sciences 37:1459-1465.


Haglund, W. D., D. T. Ready, y D. R. Swindler (1988). Tooth mark artifacts and survival of bones in animal scavenged human skeletons. Journal of Forensic Sciences 33: 985-997.


Klippel, Walter E., y Jennifer A. Synstelien (2007). Rodents as taphonomic agents: Bone gnawing by brown rats and grey squirrels. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 52(4):765-773.

Orihuela, J., O. Jimenez Vazquez, and Jorge F. Garcell (2016). Modificaciones tafonomicas bioticas en restos oseos de depositos arqueologicos y paleontologicos en las provincias de Mayabeque y Matanzas, Cuba. Cuba Arqueologica.
 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Trilobites-Sea Cockroaches of the Ocean

Trilobites were the sea cockroaches of the paleoworld. They were marine arthropods, highly adapted to multiple types of ocean ecosystems and diets that included all sorts things from the ocean bottom. This versatility and diversity helped them dominated the oceans for over 320 million years. Yes! That’s millions of years! To put in context, dinosaurs ruled the world for nearly 200 million years, whereas us humans, as a recognizable biological species, have existed for only a mere 300 thousand years. That’s less than ten percent the time trilobites existed on the planet.

Asaphus, a trilobite genus common in the Ordovician

Trilobites belong to the animal phylum Arthropoda. Arthropod means jointed legs, one of the characteristics that define the group of segmented, jointed-leggedness, hard-bodied animals that include the insects, spiders, scorpions, crabs, and lobsters. 
 
Horseshoe crab Limulus polyphemus from the Gulf of Mexico.
Note the segmented body, carapace, and jointed legs.
These are characteristics of the Arthropods.
 
Trilobites appeared on the Earth’s fossil record since the early Cambrian, around 540 million years ago, and went extinct during the massive extinction event that took place in the Permian-Triassic, around 250 million years ago. Trilobites had suffered previous minor extinctions before. The first occurring soon after their origination, during the late Cambrian, around 485 million years ago. 
 


Yet, their acme or time of greatest diversity and distribution, occurred during the Ordovician, and lasted for millions of years until the Devonian period, when fish-like predators began to keep them in check. Their large eyes, capable of all-around vision, and hard segmented bodies (carapace) likely arose out of the necessity to look out and scape from such predators. Their interesting and unique eye characteristics were reminiscent of frogs. For that reason, scientists gave them names such as Phacobs rana, or “frog-like eyes”, best known from fossils commonly found in northeastern North America. 
 
Phacops rana: trilobite species common during the north American Silurian-Devonian.
Note its segmented, frog-like eyes with minute lenses.

Trilobites inhabited shallow, shelf, marine environments. By having eyes and eyespots on the top of their heads, trilobites could watch the world above their backs. The hard, segmented body, allowed for multiple forms of locomotion, swimming, and flexibility. Some species were more swimmers, others more bottom crawlers. Their tracks are known from rocks made from ocean bottom muds. They fed mostly on anything, from small organisms to organic matter and sea bottom detritus. This included dead organisms that fell down to the ocean floor. This made them, sort of, ocean bottom vultures or cockroaches. That goes besides their obvious physical similarity.

An analogous species today would be the horseshoe crab or lobsters.
 
Horseshoe crab Limulus polyphemus from the Gulf of Mexico.


 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Few research abstracts: 2015 - 2017

As the first blog post of the new year, this fulfills one of the goals of this page: to put new research discoveries, curiosities and research findings in the view of the general public. I will be sharing a few of my most recent research findings through the abstracts of their journal publications.

Thus, without much ado, here they are:


Spanish (Catalonian) clay tobacco pipes from Castillo de San Severino; early-mid XIX century

The clay tobacco pipes of Castillo de San Severino fort (Matanzas, Cuba): typology, spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) and contextual analyses

Here we provided a detailed study of a clay tobacco pipe collection, based on typology and using energy dispersion spectroscopy (SEM-EDS), recovered from fort Castillo de San Severino, Matanzas, Cuba. The pipes came from a trash deposit that dates to between the late XVIII century and the late XIX century. The collection includes pipes of north European traditional typology, such as Dutch and English, plus reed-stemmed pipes, including pipes from Catalonia (Spain) and eastern Mediterranean
such as the Balkans. The EDS analysis suggested that the samples studied are not likely of local manufacture, or manufactured with local clays. Our study, based on historic documents and artifact analysis, contributes to the general history of the fort by providing an interpretation of the socioeconomic factors controlling the culture of pipe smocking at the fort. Our data adds valuable information on the archaeology of these portable artifacts in the fort and the region.


New Stereoviews of San Jose de la Vigia, Matanzas, Cuba: A historical contribution and new archaeological perspectives

Here we reported five stereoviews that reveal details of Matanzas city during the mid-XIX, particularly of the Plaza de la Vigía and the fort of San José de la Vigía, previously unexplored in the local historiography. These rare photographs are an invaluable resource to the historic, preservation and archaeological research of these features, which such as the fort, are today long gone. In comparison to the known etchings and sketches, these photographs constitute a less distorted record of the city.


Cover of Cuba Arqueologica, prestigious journal of Caribbean archaeology, with a
stereoview photograph of Plaza and fort La Vigia, Matanzas, Cuba, in 1859.


First report of the marine mollusk Busycon perversum (Gastropoda: Busyconidae) from the archaeological site of El Morrillo, Matanzas, Cuba

Here we reported the presence of the mollusk Busycon perversum in the archaeological site of El Morrillo. Although several species of Busycon are known from colonial sites in Havana, this constitutes the first confirmed record of this alocthonous species in region of Matanzas. This finding, as in the cases in Havana, are interpreted as importation or exchange between Floridian Amerindians, such as the Calusa or Tekestas, in Cuba during the early centuries of the island's colonization. However, it could have been introduced in Cuba also by sailors visiting the Gulf of Mexico and Florida.

Busycon perversum juv. from El Morrillo

The First Battle of the Spanish-Cuban-American War (1898): Insights from a Historical and Archaeological Perspective

The Spanish-Cuban-American War of 1898 constituted not only the events leading to the start of the first modern war but also marked the beginning of the colonialist expansion of the United States throughout the world. The explosion of the USS Maine in Havana’s harbor has often been interpreted as the excuse used by the US to get involved in the Cuban War of Independence; a war that Cubans and Spaniards had been fighting since 1895, but rooted since 1868. Previous research has traditionally focused in the naval encounters of the Spanish and US fleets in Santiago de Cuba, or the end of the war with the occupation of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam, thus underestimating the role of the Cuban troops and leaving the early events of the war poorly explored. Our research focuses on the first battle of the war, which occurred on Matanzas Bay, Cuba, on April 27th, 1898. Historic documentation from Cuban, Spanish, and US archives is analyzed, and compared to the available archaeological data, to deepen the understanding of the defensive and offensive strategies employed, and their impact on the media and their publicist strategies.

Image, mounted on glass of the bombardment of Matanzas by three USS warships in 1898


Contribution to the chronology and paleodiet of an aboriginal individual excavated in the archaeological site of El Morrillo, Matanzas, Cuba

El Morrillo, an archaeological site localized on the margin of the Canímar River, in the bay of Matanzas, is considered one of the most important agroceramist culture deposits of western Cuba. Despite its importance and richness, only one radiocarbon date, based on charcoal, had been reported from this site since 1966. Here we provide the first AMS 14 C date measured directly from human remains, excavated in 2009, along with a carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis to infer the diet of this individual. The AMS 14 C provided a radiocarbon age of 420±40 rcyBP (AP) (2σ calAD1420-1523). These results indicate a post-Columbian time of burial, likely near or during the first decades of the Cuban conquest early in the XVI century. The stable isotopes suggest that the individual had a mixed diet, with intermediate carbon consumption, and high on marine/riverine resources, which suggest the exploitation of the nearby coastal and fluvial ecosystems. These values are generally comparable to several populations of similar filiation in the Greater Antilles. Our results highlight the importance of El Morrillo in the study of agroceramist communities in Cuba and the Caribbean.

Cover of Cuba Arqueologica with an architectural plan of La Laja,
interesting water locked fortification planed for the center of the bay of Matanzas
that was never completed.

Plans for a fort in the middle of the bay of Matanzas: La Laja

The construction of fortifications in strategic or advantageous localities constituted a main method of military landscape colonization. With the economic boom of Matanzas's city, in northwestern Cuba, the importance of the growing port incited the planning of several strategic defense points, but many of them were not completed. One of them, named La Laja, planned in the center of the bay was one of such strategic localities selected for a fortification and lighthouse. Here we analyzed and reported eight unpublished plans that document several of the different projects planned for La Laja. These plans provide insight into the constructive dynamics and the evolution of defense fortifications surrounding the port and city, in this case where the bureaucracy and demolition of fort La Vigia prevented the completion of what could have been a singular and unique engineering feature.

To our great joy, several of our paper's illustrations made the journals front image. None of these accomplishment would have been possible without the help and encouragement of my coauthors, Ricardo Viera Munoz, Odlanyer Hernandez de Lara, Leonel Perez Orozco, and Osvaldo Jimenez. Moreover the patronage and encouragement of Adrian Tejedor, Herman Benitez, and many others that with their guidance and help, made our research process fun and educational. Our most sincere thanks.

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San Carlos de Matanzas

Progressus: Arqueologia, Patrimonio y Desarrollo Social

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