María de la Cruz Cave Historical Park
The María de la Cruz Cave is a place rich in archaeological artifacts. The importance of this site was highlighted between 1970-1980 when the anthropologist, Ricardo Alegria, discovered the first human remains of the Indian tribe named Taínos who lived in Puerto Rico. Since these discoveries, historians have recognized the cave as one of the first locations which served as a home to indigenous Taínos. In more recent years, the Mayor of Loíza, Julia M. Nazario, worked to turn the region around the cave into a protected area and a tourist destination. The modern-day park is open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday, 8 am to 3 pm.
Backstory and Context
The María de la Cruz Cave was declared a historical monument in Loíza, Puerto Rico on February 18th, 1972. In 1950, a renowned archaeologist, Ricardo Alegría, discovered that the cave was rich in archaeological artifacts. Today, the cave is recognized as the site of the first human remains of the island's natives, known as Taínos, and some objects of the archaic period. Artefacts indicate that the cave was home to many Taínos. As a result of the discoveries, the Mayor of Loíza, Julia M. Nazario, opened a historical park so that all visitors might learn about the importnace of María de la Cruz Cave in the history of Puerto Rico.
The María de la Cruz Cave has undergone many changes over the years before becoming a historical monument. The name of the cave was given by the municipality of Loíza in honor of María de la Cruz Walter, the former owner of the land where it is located. The cave, located on San Patricio street in Loíza, is visually impressive: "This place is a huge formation of limestone whose measurements are 164 feet wide, 82 feet deep and 98 feet high" (Rodríguez, 2018). The cave was first visited and studied in the early 20th century, by J. Alden Mason, at that time, he said that the cave had "very little archaeological value" (Oliver & Rivera-Collazo. 2015, p.2). After Mason dismissed the value of the land, it became a dump for abandoned cars and general debry. By 1945, the unregulated dump has become so problematic that the people of the Loíza cleaned the cave because a bad smell began to reach the nearby houses. While cleaning, they noticed that the cave could serve to extract limestone. This discovery helped contributed to the economy of this town. In this way, the history of the cave took an impressive turn, a place previously considered irrelevant began to be thought of as place of local importance.
By the middle of the 20th century, the anthropologist, Ricardo Alegría, went to visit the cave for research purposes, and its history changed completely. In these investigations, Ricardo Alegría uncovered archaeological findings that ultimately defined the importance of the place. Some of the things he found were animal bones, ceramic objects, stone tools and marine fossils. Moreover, this cave was destined to provide the first evidence of human life in Puerto Rico; Alegría discovered the earliest human remains in the island. Researchers have determined that all of these findings belong to archaic culture. The fact that they had endured all kinds of natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes in addition to the passage of time became a strong symbol of resistance. Researchers learned that this cave had been a refuge for the Taínos, the first humans in Puerto Rico, and the site acquired archaeological and cultural importance.
In the 21st century, Ricardo Alegría had managed to change the perception the public had of the cave. Now, Puerto Ricans have a much greater appreciation for this place, and they recognize the great historical monument they have in the town of Loíza. The Loíza administration, together with the mayor, Julia M. Nazario, decided to start developing a tourist park. Currently, the park is open to the public and has guides who provide a tour explaining details of the history of the María de la Cruz Cave. The museum dispalys several of the objects found in the excavations and is a recognized tourist destination. One visitor explains, "The tour of this cave is interesting, and it is very historically significant" (Gwenn, 2014). Furthermore, the park has a butterfly garden, a unique bee sanctuary and a Ceiba tree, which is a native tree of Puerto Rico. There are also professionals who provide workshops in cabins surrounding the park relating to the craft of turbans (traditional cloth coverings that go around the head), agricultural techniques, and learning the “bomba y plena” (a traditional dance in Puerto Rico). In addition, the Loíza administration carries out traditional activities like the “Three Kings Day” festivities in the park and manages the upkeep of the cave and its surrounding land.
In conclusion, the excavation work of Don Ricardo Alegría marked a 'before' and 'after' in the modrern history of María de la Cruz Cave. A place that was considered to have no archaeological value came to be of great help in understanding the history of the Taino natives. As a result of studies on artefacts recovered from the cave, historians learned more about how the Taínos lived and what objects they used to survive. If we go much further back in history, the archaic history of the cave was of great importance for the first settlers of Puerto Rico before the arrival of Colón and European colonization of the island. It was the work of the anthropologist Don Ricardo Alegría that established the cave and its surrounding areas as a monument to the indigenous people that lived on the island. Today the cave represents the resolve that the Puerto Rican people have to recover and maintain their indigenous culture and history.
Gwenn. Visit The Historical Park María de la Cruz in Loíza, PRDayTrips. May 4th 2014. Accessed April 27th 2020. https://www.puertoricodaytrips.com/loiza-cave/.
Oliver, José R. & Rivera-Collazo, Isabel. A reassessment of Maria de la Cruz cave site, Puerto Rico, ResearchGate. January 1st 2015. Accessed April 27th 2020. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286444561_A_Reassessment_of_Maria_de_la_Cruz_Cave_Site_Puerto_Rico_the_2012_Excavations.
Rodríguez, Jorge. Nuevo Parque Histórico Cueva María de la Cruz en Loíza, El Vocero. February 17th 2018. Accessed April 27th 2020.https://www.elvocero.com/travesia/nuevo-parque-hist-rico-cueva-mar-a-de-la-cruz/article_35bcf5ba-136a-11e8-9345-a3351a64aa62.html