By Maria Montecelos
San Cristobal, Dominican Republic, Feb 24 (EFE).- Two indigenous peoples of the island of Hispaniola – the Taino and the Igneri – believed the sun and moon emerged from the Pomier Caves before taking up their positions in the heavens.
Now, centuries later, a draft bill introduced in the Dominican Republic’s Congress could lead to that series of 55 caves just north of this southern city – known for the huge store of rock art they contain – being recognized as the “Prehistoric Capital of the Antilles.”
As part of that initiative, an investigative commission made up of three ministries and conservation organizations was created in November and tasked with providing the basis for that lofty title.
The walls of that cave system are the storehouse for a rock art collection that dates back between 1,300 and 1,500 years, according to some estimates, and is the most diverse and numerous in the Caribbean region, with more than 500 pictographs (rock paintings) and petroglyphs (rock carvings), speleologist Domingo Abreu told Efe.
Abreu has spent more than 40 years researching the prehistoric, archaeological and zoological aspects of those caves, which were formed by a subterranean river in the Miocene Epoch (between 23 million and five million years ago) and served as a pilgrimage site for ancient indigenous cultures of the Americas.
The speleologist said during a tour of the caves that their rock art also provides evidence of a connection with Mesoamerica due to its similarity to the representations of cultures on the American mainland.
“Having found so many caves, with so much diversity of rupestrian art, some identified with the Mayan culture, with the Nahua culture and with the Incan culture,” indicates that “what the Spanish found when they arrived here was a melting pot of cultures from the continent and all of the Caribbean.”
Fray Ramon Pane, a Spanish monk and chronicler who had contact with the inhabitants of the Pomier Caves zone at the end of the 15th century, says in his writings that “these caves were visited by native peoples from throughout the area and the American continent, just as the Christians visit Rome and the Muslims visit Mecca,” Abreu said.
“This was the religious and mystical capital of the Antilles,” he added.
Pane accompanied Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the Americas and in 1497 chronicled the existence of paintings in some of those caves, an account that constitutes “the world’s first record of rupestrian art.”
The caves have lacked sufficient protection, however, with six of the original 55 caves having been destroyed by limestone quarrying.
To rectify the problem, authorities have established a perimeter buffer of up to 300 meters (980 feet) between the mining area and the caves.
A lesser threat is posed by people who sneak inside in search of guano, a highly valued, nutrient-rich crop fertilizer excreted onto the cave floors by a huge community of bats. EFE