Collaborative research in Cuba wins prestigious award

23 April 2014

National Award of the Cuban Academy of Sciences

Collaborative research in Cuba involving Marcos Martinón-Torres has received a National Award of the Cuban Academy of Sciences

The project entitled 'New archaeological investigations at El Chorro de Maíta. From indigenous space to colonial setting' and directed by Roberto Valcárcel Rojas (University of Leiden) was recently awarded the highest accolade for a scientific research project in Cuba.

El Chorro de Maíta is one of the most important Caribbean archaeological sites and a National Monument of Cuban Cultural Heritage. It was excavated between 1986 and 1988, revealing an indigenous domestic context surrounding a central cemetery.

Multidisciplinary research by an international team conducted between 2005 and 2012 as part of the academic collaboration between the Department of Archaeology of Holguin and Leiden University, the University of Alabama, and University College London, among others institutions, has radically changed the interpretation of this place which is now recognised as a village of indios encomendados (indigenous individuals serving the Spanish colonizers under a regime of forced labour).

It is the first space of this type identified in the Caribbean and also one of the longer post-contact occupations hitherto studied. The cemetery was not pre-Columbian in origin but in fact a syncretic space with a Christian basis, one the earliest examples in colonial America. This central funerary space was used to bury Cuban and non-Cuban indigenous people, as well as an individual of African descent and several potential mestizos (individuals of mixed ancestry). This refutes the idea of the immediate destruction of indigenous society and shows that the site was embedded in resistance and transculturation dynamics during the sixteenth century.

Marcos Martinón-Torres' contribution focused on the study of the metal objects, which revealed the Taínos used goldwork imported from Colombia as well as lacetags of European brass, which were adopted as sacred metals and worn by important individuals.

The research contributes significantly to the development of Cuban archaeology and the protection and knowledge of national cultural heritage as well as revolutionising the methods and approaches of Caribbean archaeology as well as its international visibility. The project includes a new vision of Cuban and Caribbean history, which gives prominence to the indigenous presence and perspectives in colonial times and highlights the multicultural and multiethnic interaction of the time. For all of these reasons, it has been recognised as one of the most important achievements of Cuban social sciences in 2013.

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Selected publications
  • Martinón-Torres, M., Valcarcel Rojas, R., Guerra, M. F. and Saenz Samper, J. 2012 Metallic encounters in Cuba: the technology, exchange and meaning of metals before and after Columbus. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 31(4), 439-454.
  • Martinón-Torres, M., Valcárcel Rojas, R., Cooper, J. and Rehren, Th. 2007. Metals, microanalysis and meaning: a study of metal objects excavated from the indigenous cemetery of El Chorro de Maíta, Cuba. Journal of Archaeological Science 34(2): 194-204