Dominican Republic // Santo Domingo //

Museo Prehispánico

The Museo Prehispánico, San Martín 179 and Lopé de Vega (Mon–Fri 9am–5pm; free), is a private collection of Taino artefacts housed in a large room within the Pepsi-Cola corporate building, rivalling the display at the Museo del Hombre Dominicano in Gazcue. At the entrance are a few Venezuelan pieces (the Tainos’ ancestral home) to provide historical context, a prelude to the fossil- ized mastodon and armadillo remains, animals the natives hunted to extinction on the island. Further on stand display cases outlining the history of indigenous ceramics, followed by intricate tooth and bone sculptures used in necklaces – one is so small you need a magnifying glass to see the carving. At the far end of the room you’ll see jewellery made from conch shells, coral, teeth and clay, before turning left to the opposite end of the room for a view of an intact wooden duho – a chair carved with the face of a Taino god, used by caciques as a throne during religious ceremonies. Along the wall beside it is a collection of clay animals that represented various deities, including a dozen frogs, a few turtles, a crocodile and two owls, which were believed to ferry souls to the afterlife. The exhibit turns to more practical items as you double back towards the entrance, but the intricate ornamentation on the pots, cassava grinders and ceremonial axeheads keeps your attention from flagging. Especially arresting is the jet-black monolith of a Taino deity with an ostentatious phallus – originally meant to guard the entrance to a cave.

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