Guide to Pre-Columbian Cuba

Prehistory of Cuba

Cuba is the largest of the Caribbean islands and one of the closest to the mainland. People, probably coming from Central America, first settled on Cuba around 4200 BC.

Archaic Cuba

Many of the oldest sites in Cuba are located in caves and rock shelters on the interior valleys and along the coast. Among these, the Levisa rock shelter, in the Levisa river valley, is the most ancient, dating to about 4000 BC. Archaic period sites usually include workshops with stone tools, such as small blades, hammer stones and polished stone balls, shell artifacts, and pendants. In few of these cave sites burial areas and examples of pictographs have been recorded.

Most of these ancient sites were located along the coast and the change in sea levels has now submerged any evidence. In Western Cuba, hunter-gatherer groups, such as the early Ciboneys, maintained this pre-ceramic life style well into the Fifteenth century and after.

Cuba First Pottery

Pottery first appeared on Cuba around AD 800. In this period, Cuban cultures experienced an intense interaction with people from other Caribbean Islands, especially from Haiti and the Dominican Republic. For this reason, some archaeologists suggest that the introduction of pottery was due to groups of migrants from these islands. Others, instead, opt for a local innovation.

The site of Arroyo del Palo, a small site in eastern Cuba, contains one of the earliest pottery examples in association with stone artifacts typical of the previous Archaic phase.

Taino Culture in Cuba

Taíno groups seem to have arrived at Cuba around AD 300, importing a farming life style. Most of the Taino settlements in Cuba were located in the easternmost region of the island. Sites such as La Campana, El Mango and Pueblo Viejo were large villages with large plazas and the typical Taíno's enclosed areas. Other important sites include the burial area of Chorro de Maíta, and Los Buchillones, a well-preserved pile dwelling site on the north coast of Cuba.

Cuba was among the first of the Caribbean Islands to be visited by the Europeans, during the first of Columbus' voyages in 1492. It was conquered by the Spanish conquistador Diego de Velasquez in 1511.

Archaeological Sites in Cuba

  • Levisa rock shelter
  • Cueva Funche
  • Seboruco
  • Los Buchillones
  • Monte Cristo
  • Cayo Redondo
  • Arroyo del Palo
  • Big Wall Site
  • Pueblo Viejo
  • La Campana
  • El Mango
  • Chorro de Maíta.


This glossary entry is a part of the guide to Caribbean, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Saunders Nicholas J., 2005, The Peoples of the Caribbean. An Encyclopedia of Archaeology and Traditional Culture. ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, California.

Wilson, Samuel, 2007, The Archaeology of the Caribbean, Cambridge World Archaeology Series. Cambridge University Press, New York

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Maestri, Nicoletta. "Guide to Pre-Columbian Cuba." ThoughtCo, Jan. 28, 2020, Maestri, Nicoletta. (2020, January 28). Guide to Pre-Columbian Cuba. Retrieved from Maestri, Nicoletta. "Guide to Pre-Columbian Cuba." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).