Caguana ceremonial park in Utuado, Puerto Rico

Caguana ceremonial park in Utuado, Puerto Rico

The batey is the most important type of structure documented in Antillean indigenous settlements. Most of the bateyes that have been documented in the Caribbean islands are in Puerto Rico, with the greatest concentration in the central part of the island. This architectural element has also been documented on the northern Lesser Antilles, particularly in the Virgin Islands and Antigua, as well as on Hispaniola, Cuba and the Bahamas. The oldest batey that has been documented to date is one at Las Flores archaeological site in Coamo, Puerto Rico. It dates to 650 A.D. These kinds of structures continued to be used until the period of European contact, as documented by the European colonizers.

A variety of methods were used to build the bateyes. In some cases, large stones were stood on end, some of them marked with petroglyphs. Pebbles were used to pave an area that was naturally flat or artificially leveled. In other cases, sites were created by removing earth and placing stone walls on the vertical surfaces that were created in the process. According to observations by Robinson Rosado, in some cases these construction methods became elements associated with Antillean indigenous mythology. Rosado argues, for example, that the pebbled bases are meant to resemble the scales of a snake, while the large raised stones represent the backs of reptiles, particularly iguanas.

The bateyes were built in varied shapes, from rectangular to circular. Their dimensions ranged from 10 meters to up to 230 meters, in the case of the circular Corral batey of the San Juan de la Maguana site documented in the Dominican Republic. While the large majority of the bateyes in Puerto Rico were bordered by stones, others have been identified in Cuba, Hispaniola and the Bahamas that were bordered by earthen banks.

The purpose of these bateyes appears to have varied depending on the setting where they were located. Puerto Rico is the only island where settlements with multiple bateyes have been documented, such as those in Tibes and Caguana. Some researchers say these were important sites for rituals in which groups from various communities would gather temporarily for religious activities. Other researchers have argued that these spaces represented the central settlements associated with high-ranking individuals (caciques, for example), where other civic activities took place. They consider the sites to be civic and ceremonial centers. Such appears to have been the case at the Jácanas site, which was recently impacted by the construction work on a dam on the Portugues River in Ponce, Puerto Rico. A large number of items associated with daily life, as well as remains of housing, have been found at the site. Another example of this kind of setting has been documented at Salto Arriba, an archaeological site on the grounds of the Utuado campus of the University of Puerto Rico, where four bateyes have been identified so far.

Author: Reniel Rodríguez Ramos
Published: December 26, 2011.

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