|22 August 2009
Clues to Caribbean's earliest inhabitants
A prehistoric water-filled cave in the Dominican Republic has become a 'treasure trove' with the announcement by archaeologists of the discovery of stone tools, a small primate skull in remarkable condition, and the claws, jawbone and other bones of several species of sloths. The discoveries extend by thousands of years the scope of investigations led Charles Beeker, director of Academic Diving and Underwater Science Programs at IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, and his interdisciplinary team of collaborators.
"The virtually intact extinct faunal skeletons really amazed me, but what may prove to be a fire pit from the first human occupation of the island just seems too good to be true. But now that the lithics (stone tools) are authenticated, I can't wait to direct another underwater expedition into what may prove to become one of the most important prehistoric sites in all the Caribbean," Beeker said. Beeker and researchers Jessica Keller and Harley McDonald found the tools and bones in fresh water 28- to 34-feet deep in a cave called Padre Nuestro.
Geoffrey Conrad, director of the Mathers Museum of World Culture at Indiana University Bloomington and professor of anthropology, said the tools are estimated to be 4,000 to 6,500 years old. The bones might range in age from 4,000 and 10,000 years old. While sloth bones are not uncommon, he knows of only a handful of other primate skulls found in the Caribbean. "I know of no place that has sloths, primates and humanly made stone tools together in a nice, tight association around the same time," said Conrad, "This site definitely is worthy of a large-scale investigation."
The three stone tools and remnants, made of basalt and limestone, were examined by anthropologists Nicholas Toth and Kathy Schick, who told researchers the palm-sized stones showed unmistakable signs of human craftsmanship. Keller said local interest in the discoveries has been phenomenal. The cave where they were discovered, which is part of an aquifer and cave system that supplies water to nearby resorts, has been closed for research purposes. "There's a strong interest in protecting it, in having the research continue," Keller said. "Our partners were excited before we even found the primate."
Source: Indiana University (18 August 2009), WTHR (19 August 2009)
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