A Photo Feature from Prehistoric Cuba

By Vicente Morin Aguado

Precolombian paintings, Cave # 1 Punta del Este, Isle of Youth, Cuba.

“Cave paintings show signficant signs of damage caused by fungus and algae growth on top of the drawing’s pigments and the presence of irresponsible people who change the place’s natural conditions.”(Orfilio Pelaez, Granma, 14/02/2014)





HAVANA TIMES — Cuban natives captured their vision of the world in caves, even the stamp of the Spanish conquest, passing on hundreds of paintings called “cave paintings” to us. These are drawings which were made over a thousand years ago. Interesting analogies transport us from the past to the present.

Victims depicted their murderers, just as the conquistadores appeared taking charge in this carbon copy taken from the original, painted by the Arhuaco, farmer-potters, possible Tainos, in one of the caves belonging to the Sierra de Cubitas, in the province of Camaguey.

The photo makes up part of an original pictograph from the Guara region, the coastal plain in the south of the Mayabeque province. With an open heart, yesterday’s native, and the native which lies in all of us today, throws itself into the inevitable race with hurdles which is daily life.

It seems like indignation has been accompanying us since a long time before so-called “civilization” and Cuban Socialism. This is another carbon copy, captured by native hands in the Ambrosio Cave, Hicacos peninsula, in the tourist paradise of Varadero.

The cavern is normally open to visitors and has over 40 pre-Colombian paintings. In relations to the use of outline drawings, this is a necessary technique because the logical erosion of pigments, along with the rocky surface which serves as a “canvas” makes the whole perception of these artistic drawings difficult a lot of the time.

The photo takes us to one of the most privileged spots of Cuban and Caribbean cave paintings, Punta del Este, on the southern coast of what is today the Isle of Youth, known as the Isle of Pines since 1519. In Cave #1 alone, Dr. Antonio Nunez Jimenez classified 213 pictographs, the most complex and enigmatic of the entire pre-Colombian art scene in the Antilles.

The best example is this photo which shows it, directly above the rock, of the so-called Central Motif, a meaningful ellipse which has over a meter in diameter, formed by 28 round concentric circles and the same number of black ones too. You can see smaller concentric circles, similar to planets, meanwhile the red arrow points to the east, that is to say, where the sun rises.

A lot has been written about the possible meaning of the wonder that has been painted in this abovementioned cave, created by waves which have pierced the heel of a marine terrace. Human bones dyed red were found in the excavation site, a clear sign of a cult of the dead because the corpse had to be unburied to then be buried again, but this time painted, creating a curious set of bones.

Archaeologist Dr. Guarch Del Monte determined the rust (limonite) – a rock abundant in the north of the island for red, meanwhile charcoal was used to paint in black. Radiocarbon and residual collagen dating on the bones indicate that they are between 1000 and 2000 years old.

The arrow therefore becomes a unique detail in the collection created by the first Cuban artists:

What did they want to tell us then so long ago? I wrote back in 1993 about this: “Blood, sun, light, life. Red and black, life and death. Who are we? Where do we come from and where are we heading? This is a real cosmogony which has its most polished graphic expression in Punta del Este…”

The arrow continues to be there, two millenia afterwards, pointing towards this light at the end of the tunnel, promised for so long, the persistent social enigma we still can’t figure out.

This excellent representation of an unidentified flying species, brings us back to Guara’s limestock rocks. Bird-bat? Bats make up 20% of all mammals, the only flying species of their classification, scattered across the entire world, except for in polar areas.

I have spoken to antipodean readers in New Zealand about the Cuban people. Unfortunately, we fatally lack this desired ability to fly. We lack acknowledgement from Greenland to know if we have anything better than bats.

The following photo brings up to the present day, because it’s clear what the artist’s intention was when they created this portrait, maybe it’s of themselves, but without a mirror and still far from IMO and mobile phone, which are so popular in today’s Cuba. The great difference here is that thousands of years ago, nobody took advantage of the situation after a long conversation, to end up asking for a “save”, that is to say, a financial remittance capable of making up for the permanent shortages in this socialist paradise.

The previous photo, as well as the following carbon copy, are found in the abovementioned Sierra de Cubitas, in the Maria Teresa cave. The challenge remains for readers with regard to the twenty centuries of history outlined here.  The suggestion is that maybe this complicated pictograph could offer us a concept as complex as – E=mc2? – equal to CUBA.

Recent reports reveal that nothing significant has changed in Punta del Este, relating to environmental and human factors which affect the conservation of cave paintings.
PHOTOS: Except for the Collage, taken from the Pinero pinero documentary, made by filmmaker Yaima Pardo, the rest belong to the Antonio Nunez Jimenez Foundation in a Nature exhibit.

Basic Bibliography:
  • Guarch Del Monte and Rodriguez Cullel: Notes about the morphology and development of Cuban pictographs, in: Cuba Arqueologica # 2. 1980.
  • Morin Aguado: Research report, 1993. Summary published in: Municipal Historical Summary. Isle of Youth, 2011 (Chapter 1).
  • Nunez Jimenez: Cuba: Cave paintings, 1975.
  • Ortiz Fernando: Cuba’s Four Indian Cultures, 1943.


Vicente Morin Aguado: [email protected]


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