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Taino Encounters Volume 54 Number 1, January/February 2001
by Jerald T. Milanich

New York's Museo del Barrio showcases the first Caribbean islanders.

[image] Deminán Caracaracol, ancestral founder of the Taíno, is represented in this effigy vessel. (David Heald, courtesy NMAI, Smithsonian Institution) [LARGER IMAGE]

Taíno: Ancient Voyagers of the Caribbean, a new permanent exhibition at New York City's Museo del Barrio, focuses on the traditions and heritage of the peoples who had colonized the Caribbean centuries before the arrival of Columbus in the New World in 1492.

The Taíno, who had colonized all of the Caribbean by A.D. 1200, suffered mightily in the wake of Columbus and his fellow colonists who conquered Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, and other islands. Whole villages were wiped out by Old World diseases, warfare, and forced resettlement near mines and plantations. By the early sixteenth century, nearly all the Taíno of the Bahamas had been removed to provide labor for Spanish interests in Hispaniola, itself largely depopulated after contact. Within a few decades, all traces of Taíno life had vanished. What did survive has come down to us in the form of commonplace words like barbeque, canoe, hammock, and tobacco.

Among the more than 125 objects on view are exquisitely carved stone and wooden duhos; spatulas fashioned out of bone or wood and used to induce vomiting, an act of ritual purification; ceremonial stone axes; intricately carved stone and shell amulets; stone collars decorated with anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and enigmatic patterns; and zemis, representations of gods and ancestors imbued with magical power.

Jerald T. Milanich is an archaeologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History and an editorial advisor to ARCHAEOLOGY.

Splendor of the Steppes
by Angela M.H. Schuster

For more than a millennium, nomadic peoples roamed the Russian steppes, among them Scythians, Sarmatians, and Caucasians who buried their elite with splendid gold and silver ornaments, horse trappings, chariots, and other necessities of the afterlife. Many of their burial mounds still dot the Eurasian landscape, holding within them clues to the lives, beliefs, and artistry of these ancient people. Some of the most spectacular artifacts to come from these sites were unearthed a decade ago at a Sarmatian burial ground just outside the village of Filippovka in southern Russia. Here, 17 mounds were excavated by the Russian Academy of Sciences. Though the site had been looted in antiquity, many artifacts survived, including those found within a single burial mound known as kurgan 1. Within two treasure pits and lining the entryway of the burial chamber were 26 ornately carved wood deer, each two feet high and covered in gold and silver leaf.

The deer are among more than 200 fifth- and fourth-century B.C. treasures showcased in The Golden Deer of Eurasia: Scythian and Sarmatian Treasures from the Russian Steppes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition to the Filippovka material there are magnificent gold objects--many of them well-known, such as a comb with a battle scene and a vessel depicting Scythians--on loan from the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. Some of these were included in the exhibition From the Lands of the Scythians at the Met in 1975.

But viewer beware! Not all that glitters has been properly excavated. Also on display are several unprovenienced items from the Met's own collection, among them a ram's headed silver rhyton and two gold appliqués in the form of lions, purportedly from Iran. Nonetheless, the objects presented in the exhibition are stunning.

The Golden Deer of Eurasia is accompanied by a catalog with excavation reports and discussions of the history and archaeology of the region. Following its closing at the Met on February 4, The Golden Deer of Eurasia will travel to the Palazzo Reale in Milan, where it will be on view until May 1.

Angela M.H. Schuster is a senior editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America