By William F. Keegan
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Additional resources for The People Who Discovered Columbus: The Prehistory of the Bahamas (Florida Museum of Natural History: Ripley P. Bullen Series)
The final category of evidence that has been used to support the assumption that the Guanahatabey survived until contact is radiocarbon dates (Rouse and Allaire 1978). Of these dates the most recent is A. D. 990–1650. This date does not, however, inspire confidence since it was obtained from 1. 25 centimeters (0. 5 inches) below surface in a limestone cave and was thus in close proximity to potential contaminants. Furthermore, the standard deviation of 200 years gives it equal probability of predating European contact by centuries. Next in the sequence is an un Page 7 calibrated date of A. D. 1030, which predates European contact by almost 500 years. At this time radiocarbon dates do not support the assumed survival until contact. The Genesis of the Guanahatabeys Whether or not they actually existed at contact, the modern creation of a Guanahatabey culture follows an obvious sequence. First, in 1514 one of the leaders of the Cuban entrada reported the presence of a savage people in a region of Cuba that had most likely not been visited by the date of his report. There is no reason to accept the veracity of that account. In fact, given the conquistadores' propensity for identifying strange people and places in the New World (Milbrath 1989) it should be discounted. A similar case involves Christopher Columbus who transferred the legend of a land inhabited entirely by women ("Amazons") to the Taino's mythical island of Matinino (StevensArroyo 1988). Columbus also reported the presence of two races in Cuba—one born with tails and the other without hair (Sauer 1966:23). The Spanish were not the best ethnographers, especially when they lacked firsthand knowledge of the subject about which they wrote. The Guanahatabeyes received additional life in what were probably retellings of the Velázquez account by both Las Casas and Oviedo. All three accounts are so similar as to support the interpretation that they derive from a single source. The major modifications are Oviedo's misplacement of the Guanahatabey in southwestern Haiti, and the embellishment in Las Casas's report that the Guanahatabey "live in caves, except when they go out to fish" (Sauer 1966:184). The Las Casas account seems to be at least partially inspired by Taino mythology, in which caves figure prominently (Alegría 1986). The myth about cavedwelling men who were turned into trees when they left their cave to go fishing (Fewkes 1907; StevensArroyo 1988) sounds too similar to the Las Casas account to be ignored. In this regard Osgood (1942:50) was correct when he called the Guanahatabey (Ciboney) "semimythical. " Unlike humans with tails and unlike Amazons, the Guanahatabey have achieved immortality at the hands of archaeologists. The discovery of an aceramic material culture that predated the arrival of the Tainos came immediately to be associated with the name Guanahatabey (Cibo Page 8 ney), and it was correspondingly assumed that these people survived in western Cuba until contact (Harrington 1921; Loven 1935; Osgood 1942; Rouse 1948, 1986; Tabio and Rey 1979).