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Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Pre-hispanic Ceramics

The workshop at el Molino, Mazo
Inside the workshop at El Molino

The Benahoaritas (or Auaritas or Awaras) were the people who lived on La Palma before the Spanish invasion. They lived in caves and wore animal skins, but they farmed, and they had ceramics. The older ceramics are simpler, and the newer ones usually more decorated.

At El Molino, in Mazo, they make replicas of these ceramics. The business was started by Ramon and Vina, but these days they have other people working there too.

Cutting the decoration into a replica bowl
Cutting the design into the clay

Each design -- usually a bowl -- is an exact copy of a object made before the Spanish invasion in 1492. The walls of the workshop are lined with the reference pieces, each one labelled with the place where the original was found. The finished items are for sale in the shop, and prices range from €12 to €200. They also sell souvenirs.

Smoothing the base of a replica bowl
Smoothing the bowl with a pebble.

The workshop is in an old windmill. To get there, take the road from Santa Cruz to Fuencaliente which passes below Mazo, and look out for the signs and the windmill's sails. The windmill also houses a small museum (more in another post) and it's set in a beautiful garden.

Open Monday to Saturday, 9 am to 1 pm and 3 pm to 7 pm. Tel 922 440213

The web site is listed as http://www.ceramicaelmolino.com, but it isn't up at the time of writing.

The kiln at el Molino, Mazo
The kiln at el Molino where the finished pieces are fired.

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Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Where did the benahorita come from?

The people who lived on La Palma before the Spanish arrived in 1493 called the island Benahoare, and themselves Benahorita. (Or according to some people Benawara and Benawaritas. They insist their spelling is correct. I find this odd, because to me the correct spelling would be the one the people themselves used, only they didn't write.)

The Benahorita probably arrived on La Palma somewhere between 1000 BC and 100 BC, and the best guess is that they were Berbers from North Africa, or related to Berbers. (Of course if that's where they came from, they left well before the Arab invasion of North Africa, which changed the Berber gene pool.) Modern DNA analysis suggests that 42 – 73% of the modern gene pool is Berber. Since this is maternal DNA only, it's probably skewed towards women who survived the Spanish invasion and away from the invading men. Come to that, it's also skewed away from the sailors who spent stopovers in Santa Cruz de la Palma when it was the biggest port in the Canaries, and towards the women who gave them a good time while they were here.

A new study of DNA from the teeth of 38 Benahorita shows 70% north African, 7% sub-Saharan origin, and something they haven't found outside the Canaries. They also found a high gene diversity, which suggests that the Benahorita didn't stay isolated once they got here.

You can read the abstract itself here.

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