Fountain Cavern


Useful Information

Location: Fountain National Park.
(18.250870, -63.035230)
Open: closed.
[2006]
Fee: closed.
[2006]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: bring torch
Dimension:  
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Dr. David R. Watters (1986): Preliminary Report to the Anguilla Archaeological and Historical Society on the Archaeology of the Fountain Cavern, pdf.
G.L. Douglas (): Report on the vegetation of Fountain National Park, Anguilla Archaeological and Historical Society. pdf
Jeanne Gurnee (1989): A study of Fountain National Park and Fountain Cavern, National Speleological Foundation, 1989. pdf
Address:  
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History

300 oldest Amerindian remains created.
1200 youngest known archaeological remains.
1953 steel ladder installed to make it easier to access the cave.
1979 first exploration by a professional team fielded by the Island Research Foundation.
1985 site and surrounding area designated a National Park by the Government of Anguilla.
05 to 17-JAN-1986 archaeological excavations by Dr. David R. Watters from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
1986 cave explored by a team of the National Speleological Foundation (NSS) including Jeanne and Russell Gurnee.
1986 cave closed with an iron bar gate.
1987 Development Commitee formed.
1996 Anguillan government established the Fountain National Park Corporation.
2006 international panel of experts assembled by UNESCO World Heritage ranked the site as one of the 10 most important rock art sites in the Circum-Caribbean region.
2007 laser mapping by the University of Vermont.
25-JUL-2015 opening of The Fountain National Park.

Description

The Fountain Cavern is the most famous attraction of Anguilla, nevertheless it was not accessible to the public for many years. The famous cave with its archaeological remains was closed to protect it, but a conservation project, which included the development of the Fountain Cavern as the island's premier tourist attraction, was started in the 1980s. The project was set out by the Anguilla Government, and the British Government had taken steps to have the cave nominated as a World Heritage site. Unfortunately the cave never made WHL status, it is not even on the tentative list. However, the project started in 1989, was intensified around 2005, trails, pavilions, educational signs were erected around 2015, and the park finally opened to the public at the completion of phase I. The Anguilla Amerindian Interpretation Centre (AAIC) uses architecture and landscaping to interpret the period of the first Anguillians or the Taino peoples living in Malliouhana. It seems the interpretation centre will be constructed to depict a large Taino hut during phase II of the project.

Fountain Cavern is entered down a steel ladder into a 20 m deep pit. It is a part of the cave ceiling, which collapsed and formed a 6 m² big karst fenster. The cave consists only of a single huge chamber with an elliptical shape, the chamber is separated by a lower section of the ceiling and a step in the floor into two distinct sections which are called chamber 1 and chamber 2. The cave is rather young, estimated to be 30,000 years old, and formed most likely by corrosion caused by the mixture of sweet ground water and sea water. It has various formations and two small cave lakes which represent the karst groundwater. The lakes were always of great importance to the inhabitants of the island, as there are no sources of drinking water on the surface. They are called fountain and were the reason for the name of cave, despite the fact that there is no actually fountain or spring.

The Amerindian people, who lived in Anguilla for about 1,500 years, used the cave as a source of fresh water. And they created impressive engravings in the walls and on the stalagmites. The result are the most impressive and internationally significant Pre-Columbian archaeological remains. 33 petroglyphs are preserved. This cave was a ceremonial site, which is the reason for the high number of petroglyphs found in the cave. It is the place with the most well-preserved petroglyphs in the Lesser Antilles. Some petroglyphs were identified as the Arawak god Jocahu. The top section of a 5 m high stalagmite was carved into an enormous head, which is also thought to depict Jocahu or Yucahú. He was revered as the giver of cassava, which was one of their staple crops.

Not much is actually known about their beliefs. Most are the prejudiced observations of the Spanish conquistadors. They noted that Amerindians believed that the first people on earth, the sun, and the moon all came from caves. As a result caves were sacred places which connected them with their ancestors. Caves were used for rituals and the burial of high ranking individuals. The faces and eyes at Fountain Cave may represent ancestor spirit eyes.

Older Anguillians remember the time when the cave was still freely accessible. People climbed down tree roots to get from the entrance in the cave ceiling to the cave floor until finally a steel ladder was installed in 1953. It was visited for obtaining water even in the worst droughts, but also generations of lovers remember the Pitch Apple tree (Clusia rosea) at the entrance. According to tradition, writing their names on the leaves of the tree sealed the fate of their relationship. The Pitch Apple is also known as Autograph Tree, because the leaves are tough enough that letters can be carved into them.