Messages written in stone – at the Hato Caves

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One of the petroglyphs within the Hato Caves park - a sketch made by Mr. A.D. Ringma in 1949.

No one can deny the fact that modern man is creating, and freely discarding, an awful lot of objects. Can you imagine what future archaeologists have to go through in order to make sense of the society we call modern? Imagine having to sift through a landfill, cataloging all those artefacts in order to deduce an impression of how the 21st century society, who was responsible for the creation of these artefacts, used to function.

This is actually exactly the way an archaeologist works. Tracing, digging up, describing and cataloging (pre)historic artefacts that tell the story of the human beings that used to live on the same grounds that we occupy now. With every find, a little extra information is unearthed.

If you have an eye for details and know what to look for, Curacao offers quite some hints pointing at former societies. The historic buildings are a clear clue, but even the structure of the ‘mondi’ can provide clues of former land use, like agricultural activity. Rows of columnar cacti, or a conspicuous row of ‘Sia’-trees (West Indian birch – Bursera simaruba or also the White Gum tree – Bursera bonairensis) indicate former plot boundaries. Concentrations of ‘infrou’ (prickly pear – Opuntia wentiana) are a clear sign of goat grazing in historic times. But even the limestone cliffs hide some amazing clues in plain sight. Drawings and rock carvings, also known as petroglyphs.

These graphic elements are the result of artistic expressions of the first inhabitants of the Island, the Indians. The oldest artefacts that have been found were scientifically dated and have been found to be about 4900 years old. Not much is known about the group that left those shells, stone tools, as well as their skeletons behind. This group has been named the Archaic group. Later on, about 1500 years ago, a tribe with a much more complex society and way of living took over, the Caiquetios. Stunning artefacts, including beautifully decorated pottery, have been found and linked to this group.

Mr. A.D. Ringma in front of the limestone cliff at Roi Rincon (August 1949), a location near the Hato Caves Park. In later years Roi Rincon proved to be a treasure trove of archaeological information.

Rock drawings and petroglyphs are notoriously difficult to date. A shell fragment contains chemical elements – carbon – that allow for radio-carbon dating, pinpointing the moment in time (more or less) that a hungry gatherer sucked out its tasty contents. But a drawing is another matter.

The rock carvings at the Hato Caves are in a league of their own. Nowhere else in the southern Caribbean are petroglyphs found, so they are truly unique. It is not known yet who created those intricate patterns. It might have been the Archaic indians. It might have been the shaman, the religious leader. It might have been….. Who knows? We don’t even know what the carvings signify. Maybe one day this info comes to light. In the mean time we can only fantasize, mentally going back in time while standing in front of those petroglyphs. Just give it a try. Maybe the spirit of mother earth will touch your heart as it certainly has touched the hearts of those former inhabitants of our Island. They lived much more in harmony with their surroundings. Maybe their artefacts and drawings can still teach us a lesson or two!

The petroglyphs are located along the Indian trail within the Hato Caves Park. Worth a visit!

About Leon Pors

4 Responses to “Messages written in stone – at the Hato Caves”

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  1. Gayle King says:

    I have a very old piece, a clay pot with Indian markings on it that belonged to my great grandmother, Elizabeth de Jongh, it was painted black and my mother removed the paint because of the interesting shape of the pot and discovered the markings designed around the top..
    How do I find out if it is Caiquetios? There are so few things left from this tribe.

    • Leon Pors says:

      In case of archaeological artefacts the organisation to contact is NAAM: I’m sure they’ll be able to say something about your piece. Please let me know if you receive additional info!

      Best regards

  2. Myrna C. Moreno says:

    Excellent comments and beautiful photo’s. School kids should take pride in nature, visit sites and write a paper of their findings.