I have always enjoyed hiking or exploring new terrain, although I never dreamed I would be part of an archaeological find and an adventure of such importance.
At the time I was in the Peace Corps living in Catacamas, Olancho. It all started in April 1994 when I and a group of Honduran friends went for a trek in search of some caves they had heard about. We got a ride out to the end of the road near Guanaja and hiked back to the foothills of the Sierra de Agalta. The caves are in the heart of the Sierras above the beautiful Talgue river.
After venturing into the caves briefly, I decided to take a dip in the river. While I was swimming in the cool water two of my friends went further into the cave. They came to a spot deep inside the caverns where the ceiling vaults upward from a tight spot. Something inspired them to try and climb to a ledge about 12 feet above the cavern floor. Jorge boosted Desiderio up on his shoulders and next he held himself in position on the cave wall and then pulled his friend to the ledge above. Back ina hole they found some interesting artifacts.
I caught up with them later that night and was astonished by what they had found. Desiderio Reyes, Jorge Yanez, Greg Cabe, myself and a group of nine in all returned to the Talgue Cave three weeks later with a ladder, camera and rope. We went to the same location using the ladder to get up to the first ledge and again to get up to a higher ledge. At this level we found a breath-taking sight. We saw many glimmering bones scattered along the floor of the passageway, most of them were cemented in place, and a number of ceramic and marble vessels. This was all complemented by many spectacular formations, hidden crevices filled with more bones and of ceramics shards in piles of fine dust. It looked almost as though it was a sacred place, specially chosen and painstakingly consecrated and prepared. The area had been preserved over the centuries as the cavern filled with water and later drained, forming rimstone dams almost three feet deep leaving the bones covered with calcite. We had some upon a hidden passage containing many human bones and nearly two dozen artifacts.
Little did we know what we had found that day. We took special care to photograph what we saw and took several loose articles that we found and thought to be important to protect them from damage. We made a list of everything that we took out and reported our findings to the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History the next day.
The site was later investigated and linked to several other minor cave discoveries and two village sites found later and also explored by me. The discovery of the Talgue cave ossuary and other findings are significant because only a few burial caves have been reported from Honduras. In the tropics, bones deteriorates rapidly and therefor skeletal material in such qualities and quantities is simply unheard of. This discovered provided a rare opportunity to do a thorough investigation. The Talgue caves are positioned in the border zone between two great American cultures. Mesoamerican cultures such as the Maya on the north and the Incas and other Andean cultures on the south. The examinations revealed a significant level of sophistication and wealth in this area for the first time. The skeletal remains were found to be pained with red ocher, a mineral pigment widely used in Mesoamerica. The site was dated to almost 1,000 BC making it one of the oldest in Honduras. Among the bones were items of jade and obsidian. This suggests the area was tied into an extensive trade network. These archaeological find came as a surprise, especially the early dates.
Since finding the cave, two field research studies have taken place. These investigations uncovered four more caves with archaeological deposits of ceramic shards and bones. In the final phase of work, a group of students were taught the basics of archaeology and excavation. This brought together a wide range of professionals. Another ossuary in pristine condition was identified. At the mouth of this new cave rock paintings were discovered along with interesting artifacts. All of this was filmed for a television documentary and should air soon (watch out for it!). The Talgue area is now being developed into a national monument to be open to tourists in the near future. All of these efforts may spark a new interest in the largely unexplored area of southeastern Honduras. The area is undeveloped and is a one-of-a-kind place on earth. I have talked with two people who have spent much time exploring the area. All of this leads me to believe that the discovery I was a part of could just be the beginning of many more things to come.
Timothy Berg, a former Peace Corps Volunteer, will soon be opening a business, the Jungle Juice Cafe in La Ceiba, Honduras. Tim invites travelers to visit his cafe which will open in April, 1997. Along with the typical fare of premium coffee, juice ice cream and shakes, the cafe will offer a book exchange, travel information and more. Contact Tim via mail at Apartado Postal 199, La Ceiba, Atlantida, Honduras Central America.
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