Potiza Rerport

The Discovery of a Small Potiza Ceramic Vessel from Chicho Cave
Province of La Altagracia, Dominican Republic

Preliminary Field Report

Available in Spanish

John Foster, Charles Beeker, Geoffrey Conrad, Lynn Uhls, Mark Brauner,
Robert Green, Randalyn Raj, Cara Trautman, and Christopher Gonso


Near the small resort community of Bayahibe in the province of La Altagracia, is a series of underground fresh water springs that serve as a local water supply. Collectively known as Padre Nuestro, the springs have revealed evidence of Taino use in the many pottery fragments that have settled to the bottom of fresh water pools in these limestone caves. This note describes the recovery of an intact ceramic water container of thePotiza form from the site known as Chicho Cave. It is hoped that this descriptive information may be useful in determining the age, distribution and significance of this vessel type within the Taino culture area.

This report is part of the work Indiana University has been doing in cooperation with the Patronato Rector Parque Nacional del Este (Governing Board of the East National Park) and the Universidad Catolica Santo Domingo. Working with our Dominican colleagues, we have been asked to conduct an assessment of archaeological and historic sites within the East National Park. The purpose of this effort is to expand the information base on park resources, provide an assessment of resource sensitivity for park planners, and to produce interpretive materials for the interested public.

One of the major archaeological sites documented in the park is Manantial de La Aleta. This deep subterranean chamber has recently been described (Foster and Beeker in press). A wide variety of ceramic vessels, wooden objects and gourd containers have been noted from depths of 116 to 180 feet. These artifacts, based on style and two radiocarbon assays, span the time period from about A.D. 1100 to within a few decades of the Spanish conquest. A suggestion has been made that ceremonial offerings were made through the limestone opening, and the archaeological deposit reflects this activity.

Other nearby springs may serve as a basis for comparison with, and then interpretation of, the La Aleta assemblage. Were activities other than water collecting carried out at La Aleta in ancient times? The key to understanding site function is to compare the total assemblage from each site. This comparative effort is what led our research team to Chicho Cave. It must have been one of the most important water sources for Taino groups in the Bayahibe area and what is now the northwest section of the East National Park.

Chicho Cave

Chicho Cave is one of four spring-filled caves that make up the Padre Nuestro group. The adjacent subterranean springs are known as Papa Miguel, El Toro, and Padre Nuestro. They are situated on a flat limestone terrace 3.4 km east of the town of Bayahibe and 3.6 km northeast of the Club Dominicus Beach. The limestone substrate is heavily fractured in this vicinity and broken into sharp angular pieces. Solution weathering has also left its mark on the landscape. Numerous surface cavities have punctured the limestone, making walking an ordeal, and allowing the percolation of rainfall into a shallow aquifer. This hidden stream is accessible from large sinkholes or caves where a depth of approximately 30 m from the surface can be reached. The water has a temperature of 24.5 degrees Celsius (76 degrees Fahrenheit).

Chicho Cave is entered via a shallow sinkhole from a northern direction. A steep climb through fractured rocks leads one to a large underground chamber measuring some 30 m wide and 20 m high. A colony of bats has made its home in the roof of this chamber. Towards the south, a series of large stalactites extends from the sloping roof to a crystal-clear pool of spring water.

Fortune has smiled in the ancient past on those wishing to take water from Chicho Cave. A prominent boulder has come to rest on a horizontal plane at the waters edge. It forms an ideal place to gather water. The accidental breakage of aboriginal ceramic containers can be assumed from pottery fragments in the cobbles below this ledge at a depth of 8.0 to 9.5 m.

Artifacts from the surface settled into a rocky bottom substrate in Chicho Cave. No sediment or humus layer has accumulated. The bottom is composed of shattered limestone rocks and gravels. They form crevasses, allowing ceramic fragments to come to come to rest between them.

Chicho Images

Archaeological Diving Reconnaissance of Chicho Cave

A brief archaeological reconnaissance was made of the spring in Chicho Cave on May 25, 1997. The site was observed from the surface before a series of short dives using SCUBA were made. The survey consisted of a brief examination of the spring bottom, where pottery fragments collect below the horizontal rock. No attempt was made to systematically cover the whole open pool, but time did permit a close examination of the area containing the most sherds interspersed among limestone rock. No artifact collection was anticipated for this survey. The intention was to examine pottery fragments and leave them in place. However, in a brief dive at a depth of 8.0 m just below the horizontal rock, a dramatic discovery was made.

Intact Potiza Vessel

In a small rock crevasse below larger boulders, an intact pottery vessel had come to rest. It was lodged in a hole in the rocks, and covered by fallen stones from above. This crevasse is about 1.3 m from the bottom, and since the divers attention is normally drawn to the deepest layer containing most sherds, this vessel was overlooked. John Foster found the vessel by looking up and inside a small opening. When he removed several small stones, the pottery vessel was accessible from below.

This intact pottery container can be identified as one of the potiza form of heart-shaped jars known from the Taino culture area. It has a flat base, an oblong profile, and a phallic neck with incised, punctate, and applique decoration. Its height is 24 cm, and it attains a maximum width of 18 cm. Surface texture varies from very smooth at the base to more coarse near the neck area. Color is a mottled reddish-brown. Fire clouds show in the shoulders of the vessel. In a few places the residue of a red slip can be detected.

The neck opening measures 2 cm. A raised decorative band with incised and punctate design elements occurs around the neck. Two concentric circular designs alternating with two pairs of oval designs make up the incised decorative elements. The incised lines terminate in punctate dots. An applique band above the design has irregular thumbnail punctations.

The vessel has survived immersion in Chicho Cave in remarkably intact condition. It still holds water after an inactive life of over 500 years.

Summary and Conclusions

This report describes the recovery and condition of an intact ceramic vessel of potiza form from Chicho Cave near Bayahibe. The vessel compares favorably with several potizas of similar size and style on exhibit at the Altos de Chavon Regional Archaeological Museum. It lacks the nipple decoration and areolar design sometimes seen on the heart-shaped jars. In terms of its phallic neck, applique banded decoration, and overall shape, it fits easily within the potiza.

The vessel is being submitted to the Patronato Rector Parque Nacional del Este for transferral to the most appropriate public curatorial repository in the Dominican Republic, where the vessel will be conserved, and perhaps eventually exhibited. The authors sincerely appreciate the opportunity to work on the archaeology of the Dominican Republic, and we hope this fortunate recovery will be useful to scholars seeking to shed additional light on the Taino culture.

Cited References

Foster, John W. and Charles D. Beeker n.d. An Initial Archaeological Reconnaissance of Manantial de La Aleta, East National Park, Dominican Republic. Underwater Archaeology (in press).