New interpretative sight in Pueblo Viejo, Nuevitas, Camagüey

New interpretative sight in Pueblo Viejo, Nuevitas, Camagüey

Por: Susan Kepecs, PhD
Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Especial para Cuba Arqueológica

There’s been a lot of debate over whether or not the archaeological site of Pueblo Viejo is the original Spanish villa of Camaguey. With the 500th Anniversary of the founding of Camaguey coming right up, the Madison-Camaguey Sister City Association and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian submitted seven organic archaeological samples from Pueblo Viejo, obtained from the site’s principal investigator, Iosvany Hernández Mora, to Beta Analytic in Miami for radiocarbon dating. The results are in.

Pueblo Viejo is a large, complex site, so seven dates are not a lot. That means the results of the radiocarbon testing must be seen as preliminary, but they definitely open a bright new window on the site’s chronology – the first step into an advanced phase of interpretation that will add crucial new details to the history of the region. As far as nailing down Pueblo Viejo as the first Spanish villa of Camaguey, one of the seven dates hit the jackpot – more on that in a minute.

It’s important to know that the occupational history of Pueblo Viejo is long and complicated. Further, the site sits on an unstable coastal shelf, and because the soils shift, artifacts do not always stay in place. So, although the samples submitted for dating were taken from the earliest stratigraphic levels, the results of the lab test reflect the site’s longer occupation. Pueblo Viejo was an indigenous settlement before the Spaniards arrived, and among the seven samples, two yielded solid late prehispanic dates. After the first Spaniards abandoned the settlement – in 1516 according to the few extant written sources – it was re-used, evidently as a pirate station, in the seventeenth century and beyond. Among the lab results are three good dates ranging from AD 1670 through the ninteen hundreds.

The jackpot date I mentioned above goes a long way toward identifying Pueblo Viejo as the first Spanish villa of Camaguey. Radiocarbon dates are not the same as calendar dates – they fall within a range of years, and the range on this one is AD 1520 – 1590. That seems like a lot, but its sixteenth century placement is beyond question.

That’s crucial, because Spanish ceramics associated with the organic sample this date was made from have a temporal range that extends from the late fifteenth century through the middle of the seventeenth. But with the radiocarbon placement, plus additional archaeological information, we can pinpoint which end of the sixteenth century this date belongs to. The carbonized material that was dated came from the site’s lowest occupational level, in the context of a fallen, perishable dwelling that would have decayed not long after the Spaniards abandoned it. According to historic documents, the first villa of Camaguey was abandoned in 1516. So, bingo! The radiocarbon date of 1520 effectively tells us that there was a Spanish settlement on this site shortly before 1520 – and in archaeological time four years is a drop in the bucket.

A single radiocarbon date does not provide an absolute answer. But given the full context of this particular date, the identification of Pueblo Viejo as the first Camaguey seems pretty much certain.

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