Archeological Site Reburied

Last year, great excitement was experienced in Puerto Rico in regard to a new archeological site that was uncovered in the process of building a dam. The settlement that was discovered by the U.S. Army Corps engineers had become an intriguing window into the lives of the Taino and the pre-Taino populations that once inhabited the area. But as excavations continued, the political debate surrounding the site started to gain momentum.

The site is dated to be as old as 1 500AD, and many of the artifacts, carvings, petroglyths and statues are some of the best preserved pieces ever found. Finding figurines, skeletal animal remains, sports venues, ceremonial plazas and a cemetery, was hoped to be the evidence that scientists and archeologists had been seeking to find out more about the daily lives of ancient tribes, their traditions, culture and reason for disappearing from the site. But all excitement and anticipation was turned into frustration and disappointment as the political controversy surrounding the site brought explorations to a halt.

According to United States law, all artifacts or finds with significant historical importance that are discovered or unearthed by the U.S. Army Corps must be protected and secured in an approved facility for curating. But here within lies two problems. Firstly, there is no facility or museum in Puerto Rico that is able to house the artifacts and Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States. Most people would argue that the archeological site is therefore the responsibility of the United States, but according to the law in Puerto Rico it belongs to people of Puerto Rico, and should remain in the country and under its care.

From this confusion stemmed another debate. Some accused the United States of excavating the site with disrespect; however, once the U.S. Army Corps realized what they had uncovered, they stopped the dam project and chose to conserve the site. Then there is the argument over the hundred and twenty-five cubic feet shipment of artifacts and remains that were sent to Georgia for analysis. Puerto Rico claims that it was unlawful, while the United States maintains that they were never considering keeping the artifacts, but to merely analyze their significance, and agree that the site and findings made should remain in Puerto Rico for future generations to enjoy.

But until the debate and arguments over the archeological site have been resolved, the decision to close the site and rebury the artifacts has been made. The construction of the dam will go forward next to the site, and everyone hopes that the site will be just as magnificent and unscathed when it is reopened and studied some day.