White explorers couldn't recognise a smile on native symbols
But an analysis of human and primate behaviour indicates that the motifs were more likely symbols of non-aggression and good will, similar to a smile.
Dr Bridget Waller, co-author of the report, said the misunderstanding of the motif by Europeans could have affected the way they treated the indigenous people on the islands.
When first encountered by European explorers, the bared teeth motif was characterised variously as a death mask, an image of a skull, and as the face of a shaman in trance.
Fernández de Oviedo y Valdez, who travelled to the Caribbean in the early sixteenth century, wrote that the grinning idols represented an "abominable figure...deformed and frightening with ferocious fangs and teeth and disproportionate ears and burning eyes of a dragon."
Modern scholars have previously agreed with the original interpretation that the figures represented a ferocious devil image or shamanistic trance, but the new study is the first to consider the image as a positive symbol.
comments powered by Disqus
- West Point historian says if his cadets can understand the history of war, so can Congress
- Australian historian Alan Atkinson wins $100,000 literary prize
- From his perch in Saudi Arabia, Princeton’s Mark Cohen says Jews and Muslims should remember they used to get along
- Duke honors historian John Hope Franklin with year-long series of events
- What New Left History Gave Us