Of the bitumen deposit that is on the island of Cuba or Fernandina.

Translated by Isabella Perez ’21

On the northern coast of the island of Fernandina del Puerto del Príncipe there is a deposit of pitch which is extracted in slabs or chunks of very good pitch or tar; but it must first be mixed with much tallow or oil to be useful for plugging or tarring the ships. I have not seen this deposit, although I have been on that island. But it is a very notorious thing, and I knew of it from the Adelantado Diego Velazquez, who spent much time in charge of the governance of that island, and from Captain Pánfilo de Narváez, who finished the conquest of the island; I also heard of it from the pilots Johan Bono de Quexo and Anton de Alaminos, and from other gentlemen and noblemen, all credible men, who many times saw that same pitch or tar and where it is created—and all approved it as good and suitable to tar the ships. Diego Velazquez showed me the pitch and gave me a piece of it, which I later brought to Spain in the year 1523 to show it there. This is not a new thing according to Pliny[1], who writes that Lake Asphaltites (what the Greeks called the Dead Sea), lake of Judea, produces bitumen; Pliny[2] also says that near a town or province called Corambi there lies a source of bitumen as well. And Pliny is the not only one who believes it possible that there are sources of bitumen, since Quintus Curtius[3] says that in the city of Memí there is a great cavern or cave where there is a seep that scatters a large quantity of bitumen, in such a marvelous way that it is easy to believe that the walls of Babylon could have been built of bitumen, according to what that author says. It seems to me that from these two authentic records we have statements about three places where this bitumen is found—the lake of Asphaltites and the Corambi and Memí deposits. Moreover, I will say that in these our Indies there are six other seeps or deposits that produce the same: one of these deposits that yields plentifully is the one in Cuba; another is in New Spain in the province of Panuco, whose bitumen some say is better than the one found in Cuba; and there are another two sources of bitumen in the province of Perú, on the point called Santa Elena (they say one of these is even of turpentine); the fifth source, of another certain form of bitumen, is on the island of Cubagua; another lake of bitumen is in the province of Venezuela, and I have faith that they will discover others, because the Mainland is another half of the world. Of these which are mentioned, I will write more particularly when the Mainland is addressed in the second part of this General and Natural History of the Indies, and in the following book when Cubagua is discussed, and especially when each part of it is addressed in detail.

[1] Pliny, Book II, Chapter 106.

[2] Pliny, Book VI, Chapter 29.

[3] Quintus Curtius, Book V.