Ancient treasure finds new meaning at the University of Haifa

The Haifa findings truly gave new life to Prof. Roderiguez's research.

One of the Puerto Rico statuettes researched by University of Haifa. (photo credit: COURTESY HAIFA UNIVERSITY)
One of the Puerto Rico statuettes researched by University of Haifa.
The suspected origin of ancient treasures from Puerto Rico were validated thanks to a unique laboratory at the University of Haifa. The carved stone objects, which were long forgotten until a student-turned-professor named Reniel Rodríguez Ramos revived research on them in 2001.
According to a press release by the University of Haifa, the Use-Wear Analysis Laboratory of Iris Groman-Yaroslavsky – which specializes in showing how and when various objects were created based on microscopic examination – confirmed that the objects were carved in the 16th century and are not modern forgery.
“This is definitely one of the strangest and most fascinating stories I’ve been involved in,” Groman-Yaroslavsky said. “To date, we have not found any similar carved stone art objects from this region of America, and this is why many researchers assumed that they must be fake. However, the microscopic tests we performed show beyond any doubt that the stones were carved around 600 years ago.”
The objects have a mythical, Hollywood-esque history. During the 19th century, a Puerto Rican monk named José María Nazario announced his discovery of some 800 carved stone statuettes. He claimed to have discovered the objects after a dying old woman invited him to her hut in the mountains, where she revealed the location of an ancient treasure her family had been protecting for centuries. The monk followed the woman’s instructions, which led him to a pit covered by a large stone, deep in the lush forests of Puerto Rico. Nazario lifted the stone and underneath stood the figurines.
The art objects form various shapes, with some resembling humans while others possibly being ritualistic items. Ancient markings, which must represent an unknown writing system, covered some objects. The markings are the first of their kind to be discovered, eliminating any connection the objects might have to a known pre-Colombian civilization.
Further analysis in Groman-Yaroslavsky’s lab showed remnants of gold coating and red paint on the items. The materials’ presence suggests the objects were used for ancient worship, aligning with the fact that gold mines can be found in Puerto Rico and that there is a lot of evidence gold was used in bygone ritualistic practices.
The Haifa findings have given new life to Rodríguez’s research. Rodríguez will now investigate the early writing systems of pre-Colombian America to search for a clue as to the origin of the carvings’ mysterious markings.