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Taíno Stilt Village Volume 52 Number 6, November/December 1999
by Spencer P.M. Harrington

[image] Canadian-Cuban excavation team cleaning Taíno house remains. (Elizabeth Graham) [LARGER IMAGE]

The remains of as many as 40 Taíno houses, all of which stood on pilings above water, have been found off a two-mile stretch of beach at Los Buchillones on Cuba's north coast. Among the largest and longest occupied of such settlements in the Caribbean, Los Buchillones may show how technology and social conventions of the Taíno, the Caribbean's Precolumbian inhabitants, changed during the 500 years before contact with the Spanish. Past studies of Taíno settlements, according to project codirector David Pendergast of Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum, have yielded scattered house posts and postholes from houses built on dry land, but little evidence of how Taíno culture evolved. "The implicit assumption has been that the Taíno people didn't change," he says.

Using sandbags and plastic sheets to dam small areas of sea floor, the joint Cuban-Canadian team has so far excavated two houses. The first, more than 60 feet in diameter, is thought to have functioned as a communal residence or public building (see "Taíno Finds," September/October 1998), while the second, discovered earlier this year, was most likely a single-family residence. Investigation of the second house showed that it was built on stilts in the sea; a subsequent survey revealed that the nearly two score other houses were built in a similar fashion. The project has also identified foundations on an area of shoreline that was part of the settlement. "It appears possible that the Taíno first occupied dry land, then moved into the sea," says Pendergast, adding that he is unsure why they would have done so. "There has to have been a good reason," he notes, "because building over water took much greater effort than building on land."

Lagoon sediments had largely preserved the thatched roof of the house excavated earlier this year; the team also recovered fruit seeds (some from a hog plum) and an as yet unidentified peel, refuse likely thrown from the house platform into the sea. Pendergast is hopeful that the sediment around the houses will contain more garbage. "Our prospects for a comprehensive understanding of the Taíno diet are very good," he says. Future excavation should glean enough information about Taíno architecture to enable reconstruction of a typical Taíno house on dry land; a permanent coffer dam would allow visitors to see the remains of a house in situ.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America