Jamaican Caving Notes
Sept 30, 2005
Team: Stewart, Taylor
Notes: RS Stewart
The day (Friday) began with me dropping off Elizabeth Slack in Falmouth, from where she would head back to St Mary via route-taxi before joining us again the following week. After I’d done that, I visited one of my favourite restaurants for breakfast and a read of The Gleaner. I had no real intention of doing any caving, and was planning to take the day off. This would not turn out to be the case, for upon my return to Coxheath, I happened to link with Malibu (Martel Taylor) who informed me that he’d learned of a new cave from “Stamma” the night before, very close to Sherwood Content (i.e. just up the road). This was surprising news for both of us, because we were of the thought that we already knew of every cave in the district. The day was still early, about 11:00, so we decided to take a drive and try to track down “Shorty”, on whose land the cave was found.
Located a five-minute drive from Miss Lilly’s, along the road to Duanville from Sherwood Content, is Piedmont, and this is where the cave was said to be. In no time at all, we were there, had found Shorty, and were told that he did indeed know of the cave, and could show it to us, but was about to start cooking his dinner. We arranged to return in about an hours time, giving him a chance to eat, and giving me the time to drive to Windsor to grab my gear.
Upon our return, I realized that Shorty was seeing this as a money-making opportunity and hoped to pry some serious dollars from us. This was not possible, of course, because we don’t have money to pay people in this way. I presented him with a choice: I would give him enough for a couple of Red Stripes, and no more, or else we would say to hell with it and not bother (for all I knew, the cave was just a little shelter on the side of a hill). Shorty seemed to quickly realize that I was serious, and also seemed to have some interest in the cave himself, so he agreed to take us there on those terms. (It should be noted that all we were really asking of him was directions to the cave, not his presence, but he insisted that we wouldn’t find it ourselves). I also sweetened the deal by telling him that the cave would be named after him, and the account would appear on the Internet and in publications (as in this document). With a full understanding of arrangements now made clear for all parties, we were soon on our way, hiking towards a medium-sized hill to the southeast.
The hill that we ascended to reach the cave is bushed-up with shrubs, and is of a moderate steepness. One must take care with one’s footing, but the only real difficulty involved is in avoiding the biting ants on the rotten wood that must be brushed past while climbing. Although the distance seems longer because of the hill, the cave is reached after only a couple of hundred metres of hiking total. On the left, an entrance of 2-3 metres high and wide is easily found at the beginning of a small saddle. The GPS position that was taken and is supplied in these notes is not as accurate as it could be, due to a poor horizon, and canopy, but it will allow the cave to be found with a little searching.
It was immediately apparent that this was more than a shelter, although the morphology indicated that it wouldn’t be massive (high on a small hill). We definitely had something worthwhile, and even better, it had the characteristics of a site that the Taino would have liked (high and dry, with water available at no great distance). We’d already found a couple of new archaeo sites earlier in the week, and it looked like we were on a roll.
Three of us entered the cave initially: Malibu, a guest whose name I forget, and myself. The chamber we passed into was moderately high (>10m), with a floor consisting of large breakdown boulders. We travelled over these until the end of the chamber was reached, about 30m in. Because the cave was very dry and clean, the calcite was very attractive and our guest was quite impressed. As the others returned to the entrance, again passing over the boulders, I worked my way along the bottom of these looking carefully for evidence of Taino. About two thirds of the way along, I found what I was looking for – potsherds. In a narrow section between the boulders and the wall (left wall as one exits), I spotted several large pieces of pottery, broken, sitting on the floor. A little more looking found all of the pieces of what had originally been a bowl of about 20-25cm width. They were all in an area of under 1 sq m, and appeared to still be lying where the bowl had first fallen, at some time in the past. Several of the larger pieces were directly underfoot for anyone travelling through this part of the cave, and the others were somewhat under a boulder immediately to the right. After looking carefully at the sherds that were in the open, I gathered them and carefully moved them beside the others under the relative safety of the boulder. Unless they were removed by others after our visit, they should still be there.
The potsherds were definitely Taino, with no glaze, and a black colour from the firing of the pot. I suspect that the original bowl had been sitting in a cleft above the spot where I found the broken remains, and had been dislodged by tremors sometime during the previous centuries. We were told by Shorty afterwards that he knew of no one having entered the cave before, but I doubt if that is the case – there have been Jamaicans living in the district for hundreds of years, and the cave is not so difficult that it would never have been visited. Thus, the bowl could have been disturbed (to fall to the floor below) by a human visitor, but if this were so, they did not stop to look at what they had done and rearrange the pieces (as in collecting several of them in their hand and then putting them down in a close group).
Biologically, the cave is almost all twilight zone, very dry, and did not seem to supply habitat for trog species. There is occasional use by bats, probably limited to Artibeus, with maximum numbers at any one time estimated to be under 500. There is no accumulation of guano, just individual faeces lying on boulders.
This site was previously unlisted, and has now been entered into the register with the name “Shorty’s Cave”. We must thank Shorty for having assisted us with no real financial benefit to himself. I should note that I carefully explained to Shorty, and the others, that the cave, and pottery, had no monetary worth, but it was a place that was sacred to the Taino and should be left entirely alone. I also mentioned that there might be duppies in residence, so for that reason, if no other, it should not be visited casually. I am hopeful that it will remain untouched for now, but this site should be properly investigated at the earliest opportunity.
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