Ponce, Puerto Rico
Following is a report prepared by Frank Hole, Ph.D. a professor in the
Anthropology at Yale University, following a three day visit to Tibes in December
I was struck by the excellent facilities and the beautifully maintained park, with its
archaeological and botanical displays. I think the inclusion of the garden with
cultivars was particularly good (although it had been harvested by the time I left).
the educational potential for this kind of tie-in is exceptional. I like the reconstruction
of the Indian village and would only suggest that one of the huts might be equipped
household goods, including pots, mortar and pestle, hammocks, etc. Such a hut
to be "closed", but it would be effective. Alternatively such a hut might be placed
I would recommend some signs explaining the bateyes and other site features. I
realize that visitors are supposed to travel with a guide, but this is quite limiting and
practice might be modified for those who wish to explore on their own. I was glad to
schools groups regularly visit the site.
Now to turn to archaeology. Tibes is a remarkable site whose full value
to be discovered: its potential is hard to judge accurately from what has been
recovered so far,
but it would seem to be very great indeed. I base this assessment on the following
- Previous archaeological work has been very limited, despite the uncovering and
"restoration" of many of the stone alignments.
- Much of the site has yet to be explored and a number of other stone alignments
to exist outside the mowed area.
- Except in the burial area, previous excavations have been confined to test pits
more extensive, areal exposures.
- Previous work has been largely on the bateyes rather than the spaces between
ethnohistoric sources suggest houses may have stood. Careful excavation in these
may reveal post holes and hut foundations, as well as refuse disposal areas.
- The pottery at the site spans nearly the entire ceramic history of Puerto Rico
and it would
be surprising not to find some evidence of Archaic peoples at Tibes also. No other
site has such a long sequence of material.
- The ballcourts are the oldest yet discovered and may show some development
over the long span of occupation.
- The volume of ceramic and other artifactual material already recovered, as
potentially recoverable, far exceeds that from any other known site and affords an unusual
opportunity for detailed analyses of changes related to time as well as to local styles.
- The skeletal remains constitute an extremely valuable time-series that may
in diet, nutrition, and race. The principal problems with the extant collection are the lack
relative dating (at least I did not pick up on how the skeletons might be dated, other than
through radiocarbon), and their possibly fragmentary condition. Since there is good reason
to expect that far more skeletons might be recovered, they should not be removed from the
ground unless there is an expert in skeletal analysis on site to effect or direct the actual
- It is imperative to produce an accurate map of the entire site, probably
extending to the
surrounding hillsides, and to accurately plot the location of previous excavations, the
cemeteries, and stone alignments.
- If we assume that the bateyes were not all used simultaneously, it follows that
thoroughly investigate the structures in relation to what is beneath them, as well as the
surrounding land where there may have been houses or other structures. In this way it may
be possible to build up a temporal sequence of structures.
- The possibility that the earth may have been substantially modified should be
investigated. For example, batey I lies in a hollow flanked by "shoulders" (or
terraces/platforms) on the northernmost of which is batey 4. Another batey may lie to the
south but has not been exposed as such. Luis said that the hollow area may once have been
river channel, but I would also suggest that it may have resulted from the building up of
terraces on either side. This could be investigated rather simply by digging a trench from
hollow into each of the banks.
- An accurate and detailed topographic map may reveal other features that
terracing, as I suggested above.
Since Tibes is one of the most important sites in the Caribbean, participation in the
planning and further exploration should include a broad spectrum of archaeologists currently
working in Puerto Rico. At the same time it should be clear that research must be centrally
directed and coordinated by the archaeologists affiliated with Tibes itself. I would suggest
that an advisory committee be established to review plans drawn up by the resident
archaeologists and to advise on approaches, techniques, personnel, scheduling, sources of
financial support and so on.
Although the site is large and potentially could support a series of separate
archaeological investigations, I would recommend against carving the site into small
parcelled out to individual archaeologists. Although such an approach might work, it tends
work against close collaboration and to diffuse authority, lead to variable quality of
excavations, and confuse responsibility for analysis and publication. Instead, I would
to see some well-defined projects identified and interested individuals could participate in
whichever phases of the work they were interested in and competent to deal with. The
ability for coordinating these efforts would fall to one person, but the resulting
would list all contributors. Such a practice would probably ensure that there
would be volunteers who have neither the time nor inclination to take on entire projects,
would be happy to participate in a group effort, according to their interests and abilities.
From our latest phone conversation it appears that progress in developing a
collaborative network has already been made and that a protocol for sorting the pottery,
soon be in hand. I think it is an excellent plan to involve local students. The work will go
quickly and give a good basis for further research.
I mentioned that there may be some possibilities for having Puerto Rican students
come to New Haven as museum interns, working with the very extensive Caribbean
collections here. I don't know how we can implement this, but it seems a very good idea
will continue to pursue possibilities here.
It is not clear to me what formal training in field techniques students in PR have had,
but it might be possible to set up a kind of "field school" at Tibes. One way to do this
not the only way) is to set up a kind of Earthwatch project. Non-PR paying participants
would pay the bills and local students could participate without cost. I have not dealt with
Earthwatch myself, but many archaeologists have and a lot of work is done that way that
could not be afforded otherwise. If there is interest I would be willing to help organize and
perhaps participate in such a venture.
Another way to do a field school is, of course, under the auspices of an academic
institution. A field school director, who might be given a visiting appointment, could
offer the course is locals are not available. In such a case normal tuition with some college
governmental subvention might cover the expenses.