The first population of the Canary Islands was led by Berber groups from North Africa around the first centuries of the Age
Las Huesas, a necropolis of the aborigines of Gran Canaria
First time on the island, evidence of ritual deposits of domestic fauna in burial contexts is identified
Location of the cemetery of Las Huesas, object of study, on the island of Gran Canaria
Once the islands were populated, the absence of regular contact between them and with the outside world determined the development of different social and economic dynamics in each of the island territories, giving rise to specific ways of life that ended with the conquest of the archipelago by the Crown of Castile in the 15th century.
In the case of Gran Canaria, the research undertaken in recent years is making it possible to identify important transformations in the aboriginal society throughout its 1300 years of history (for example, Henríquez et al., 2019; del Pino and Rodríguez, 2017). One of the most forceful manifestations in this sense is that provided by the study of burial spaces, as different typologies are recognized (caves, burial mounds and cysts-pots) with particular temporal and territorial expressions (Alberto et al, 2019).
However, the knowledge available on the different sepulchral formulas is certainly disparate, and the analyses that have been carried out in recent decades on caves are very limited. In spite of being the only burial formula that was in use throughout practically the entire aboriginal sequence, there is little known about the development of burial practices in these enclosures and the modifications that they may have undergone over time in line with the emergence and coexistence of new burial typologies (burial mounds between the 7th and 8th centuries, graves and cists between the 12th and 15th centuries).
Within this framework, the Canarian Museum has undertaken a review and re-reading of the excavations carried out in caves over the last century, when most of the archaeological interventions in these types of graves were carried out. This is making it possible to explore new issues, two of which stand out. On the one hand, the inclusion of ritual deposits of fauna and, on the other hand, the funerary behaviours displayed around the youngest individuals, investigating the transformations that such practices may have undergone over time, as a reflection of the social, economic and ideological dynamics of the ancient Canarians.
Archaeological excavation of one of the burial caves in the cemetery of Las Huesas in 1980. Archives of the Canarian Museum
One of the most significant necropolises in this sense is the one known as Las Huesas, located in the Guiniguada ravine (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Gran Canaria), about two kilometres from its mouth. It is made up of some thirty cavities and is linked to a town of caves and stone structures in its vicinity. In the 1980s, four of the caves were excavated (Cuenca and García, 1980-1981). Neither the remains of fauna nor the youngest subjects were identified at the time of the intervention, being collected with the set of human bone remains of adult individuals. The current review of this archaeological material has made it possible to identify, for the first time on the island, evidence of domestic fauna (bone remains of dogs, ovicaprines and pigs) that can be interpreted, given their characteristics, as ritual deposits, practices that had not been recorded in Gran Canaria until now.
Similarly, this cemetery also provides bone remains of children of different age ranges, including perinatal (i.e., those who died around the time of birth), which share space with the remaining adult members of the community.
The absence of records of terrestrial fauna with a ritual character as well as of perinatal individuals is notorious in the burial contexts of burial mounds, graves and cists. Given the chronologies of these cemetery typologies, it appears that time and the social changes that may have taken place within the aboriginal populations may have played a role, along with other issues, in the variations of these particular funerary expressions.
Human sternum affected by dog bites Archives of the Canarian Museum
To all this we must add a factor of taphonomic order of great importance and that until now had gone almost unnoticed in the islands. The dog bite marks documented on some of the human skeletal remains recovered in Las Huesas allow us to affirm that these animals affected the deposit when the bodies were fresh. Evidence of the presence of dogs is really scarce in the archaeological record of Gran Canaria, so that such manifestations, although indirect, are of undoubted interest, at the same time revealing the post-depositioning processes to which the cave burials were subjected.
In short, the objective of the present project, financed by the Palarq Foundation, is to undertake an analysis of radiocarbon dating of the remains of fauna and of children who died at a younger age, which are documented at the Las Huesas archaeological site, from which these manifestations can be dated and integrated into the framework of the remaining funerary behaviours. The data obtained will contribute to the investigation of the historical explanation of the funerary behaviours that are analysed here, and to deepen, from a diachronic perspective, the complexity of the practices deployed by the ancient Canarians around death.
Dra. Teresa Delgado Darias, Dra. Verónica Alberto Barroso y Dr. Javier Velasco Vázquez
Dra. Teresa Delgado Darias (El Museo Canario) Dra. Verónica Alberto Barroso (Tibicena Arqueología y Patrimonio, grupo de Investigación Tarha. Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria) Dr. y Javier Velasco Vázquez ( Servicio de Patrimonio Histórico. Cabildo de Gran Canaria)