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Taino Indians May Have Traveled, Lived Territorywide

Oct. 24, 2004 – St. Croix residents had two opportunities this weekend to learn about the culture that flourished in the Virgin Islands before the arrival of Columbus.
On Saturday night archaeologist Ken Wild was in Christiansted to talk about his research on the Taino Indians. On Sunday morning he was to speak on the spirituality of the Taino people at a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at the Castle Coakley Greathouse on Route 81.
The Archaeological Society of St. Croix presented his talk Saturday. It was scheduled to be given at the Luncheria Courtyard off Company Street, but because of threatening rain was moved inside the National Park Service's former post office building,
He talked about the research on St. John and St. Thomas that has brought him to the conclusion that the Taino civilization was developing on all the Virgin Islands at the time of Columbus's arrival. Earlier archaeologists had concluded that the Taino were only on St. Croix. (See the St. John Source story "Archaeologist Finds Reason to Reinterpret V.I. History").
Different discoveries have forced this conclusion on Wild. His first inclination came when he was on Vieques, where the Taino people were known to have thrived. He said standing on a hilltop he could see all the Virgin Islands. It dawned on him that a civilization would probably try to expand to islands that it could see.
Many Taino artifacts had been found on St. Croix and St. Thomas, but because no Taino ball courts were found on those islands, previous archeologists had concluded that those artifacts were simply trade goods.
However, according to Wild, residents of St. John digging a pit toilet in the 50s came across evidence of a Taino ball court.
Wild has since discovered collaborating evidence on St. John. He said digs have disclosed that ceremonies related to the Taino culture have been uncovered.
Also, when he was involved in work at the site of the present Tutu Mall on St. Thomas, he was shown the remains of an ancient house. The outline of the house was still visible. He showed a slide of it to the St Croix audience. He said it was in the same pattern and design of the Taino houses he was familiar with on Puerto Rico.
His presentation Saturday was short, and then the program became an informal question-and-answer period with the audience.
One audience member wanted to know if the Taino Indians had any warlike tendencies. Wild said the evidence did not indicate so, but there was reference in early literature that the Tainos used red ochre war paint.
John Farchette, a member of the audience, said the Tainos were a matriarchal society. He said their highest deities were female and the Tainos worshipped ancestors along the female line.
Another audience member wanted to know if there were artifacts indicating there were contacts between the Old World and New before Columbus's arrival. She mentioned a book that stated the Chinese were in the Caribbean in 1431.
Wild did discuss an artifact, probably the eye of a carved idol, that was made from a type of gold not generally found in this part of the world. However, he cautioned that just because different ancient cultures went through similar stages, it did not mean that the cultures had contact.
There was also a discussion about the current state of archaeology sites on the Virgin Islands. Farchette said officials generally don't like to mention the sites publicly now because of the "pottery hunters" who were digging all over the islands in the 70s and 80s.
Megan Schoenfelt, of the Archaeological Society, introduced Wild. She invited members of the audience to tour the Society's Museum off the Luncheria Courtyard. It is open Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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