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Friday, March 4, 2011

Caribbean Cave Art Myths Revealed

A Window Into the Past 
Hoyo de Sanabe in the Dominican Republic is known for having some of the best rock art in all the Caribbean. 

Hundreds of pictographs painted in black can be found in the cave with the majority located on the north wall within the first 50 meters of the east entrance. About one dozen petrogyphs are located inside the west entrance. 

Many pictograph motifs seem largely to be associated with the themes of healing and childbirth as described by the early chroniclers of indigenous life, Fray Ramón Pané and Bartolomé de las Casas. 

To explore this hi-definition GigaPan, use the controls located at the left of the image, click-and-drag and scroll with your mouse, or use your keyboard's arrow keys to navigate left or right and the plus and minus keys to zoom in and out. Click "View All" to see the entire image. Click on individual snapshots to highlight specific scenes in the images and reveal fascinating information about the myths and meanings behind them.

Snapshots (click to zoom):

Name: Twilight zone cave paintings, Hoyo de Sanabe, Dominican Republic #3
Author: Robert Mark (rmark)
Date Taken: 2011-01-27 16:40:33
Date Added: 2011-01-27 17:07:32
Views: 441
Snapped By:
Date Taken:

Gigapan by Robert Mark, Rupestrian CyberServices

About the Images

Current research by Domingo Abreu and Daniel DuVall and photography by Robert Mark are bringing the ancient stories behind this art to the public like never before.

One of the pictograph panels seems to depict, in part, a myth described by Fray Ramón Pané of Deminán Caracaracol, his three brothers and their grandfather, Bayamanacoel, who spat a wad of cohoba (a hallucinogenic agent prepared from the seeds of Anadenathera peregrina) on the back of Deminán. This scene shows twin gods fighting to save the life of Deminán by cutting his back open to release a live turtle! 

Other panels depict pairs of anthropomorphs carrying a third slung between them, perhaps to a site for healing or burial. Other motifs are of masks that were used by healing shamans to frighten away illnesses and still others show figures inhaling cohoba which was also associated with healing practices. Also notable are depictions of anthropomorphs with swollen bellies, perhaps pregnant, and of turtles which were associated with fertility and motherhood in Taíno mythology. 

The most prominent figure both in terms of its size and its position in the center of the 30 meter long panel appears to be of a dog. Dogs were present here in pre-Columbian times although it is not known that they were associated with any healing or fertility themes. 

More exploration will continue to reveal rock art in the Dominican Republic, and more research will continue to reveal the possible meanings of these ancient yet still compelling scenes. Learn more on Daniel DuVall's personal website,