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amerindian artefacts

The culture and customs of Arawaks – the name given to the first people to live in the Caribbean – have had a lasting influence on the history of Barbuda, as technology improves and we learn more about the past. It is estimated by research that there were between 5 and 9 million people of different groups living and thriving in the area since the stone age, probably coming from what we know as Central America or Florida. We know that on Barbuda much of the island remains as pristine as it would have been in those ancient times so we must understand and preserve this history while it is still possible to find evidence of their daily lives here. There are many locally known sites and it’s quite common to find fragments of shells, tools and pottery that were used by Arawak people thousands of years ago.

Ciboney (the name given meaning cave dwelling) were families of hunter-gatherers, using stone tools and collecting food. Artefacts from this time include cutting blades fashioned from the large gastropods that the Ciboney harvested, while celts, picks, hoes, and water vessels were made from conch, trumpet shells and whelks. The best evidence for their presence is along the southwest coast of Barbuda from Coco Point up to River and to the south-east corner of the Lagoon. This is the Strombus line, made of piles of Queen Conchs (Strombus Gigas) that were harvested for their nutritious meat, found with thousands of sharp chert flakes from Flinty Bay, in Antigua. These would have been used to cut meat for cooking or drying. Habitation sites are along the coast near Codrington, River, Sucking Hole, Factory, and Goat Pen. More recently human remains carbon-dated as 3100 years old were found at Boiling Rocks, near Spanish Point.

Taino were agriculturists moving from ground to ground, peace-loving and non-hierarchical and living in larger settlements. The earliest human remains are at Seaview, near Two Foot Bay. They cultivated sweet potatoes, corn, peanuts, cotton, tobacco, and numerous fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants. The bitter cassava plant provided the staple of their diet. Fish, turtles, manatees, and other seafood, birds and their eggs, iguanas, small mammals, and land crabs provided the protein in a very well balanced diet. They are characterised by their sophisticated pottery, known as Saladoid. The decoration was white-on-red and had zoned-incised-crosshatching. Later the pottery became simpler when red and brown or orange predominated. This pottery has been found at Sufferers in the Spanish Point area, and may exist at Indian Town, near Two Foot Bay. The period 1500 to 800 years ago saw the largest population on Barbuda, which often was used only for short stays or seasonal provisioning. Six or more village sites are known including Sufferers, Indian Town, Highland Road, Guava and Welches.

Kalinago (called Caribs by early settlers) were forced to defend their land as the arrival of Europeans throughout the Caribbean destroyed most of the indigenous communities – bringing war, disease, forced labour and occupation of their land. They also spent time on Barbuda and were a deterrent to European colonisation – in the early 1700s the British Royal Navy had to protect the inhabitants of Codrington from their attacks.

Only Barbudans had prior knowledge of the extent of our pre-European culture on the island until 1965 when a D R Harris published a picture of a large stone Dogs Head Ceremonial Inhaler. Harris indicated that this was the first significant artefact evidence of Amerindians living on Barbuda and the only artefact of its kind known south of Puerto Rico. The inhaler was found near Two Foot Bay and had been used as a door stop in a Barbudan home. Between 1979 and 1992 Dr. David Watters from the Carnegie Museum published the most complete updates on the Amerindian presence in Barbuda and its history in general. Dr. Watters conducted surveys and test excavations. Dr Steven Hackenberger and local teacher Gregg Wilson from Central Washington University visited the island in 1999 with a group of students and added to the survey work of Dr Watters and started to inventory collected items for further study and storage. Since then regular archaeological work in Barbuda has been carried out by various visitors including the Antigua Historical Society and Professor Sophia Perdikaris of the Barbuda Research Centre (BRC). Barbuda is of intense interest to researchers and for several years the City University of New York (CUNY) have visited Barbuda with Sophia, who has published a large number of articles emphasising the importance of our unique Barbuda heritage, and bringing students to carry out extensive archaeological field research including excavations at Seaview, Highland House, River and the caves. BRC have set up their own base on Barbuda and some of the funding was used to establish a small, temporary museum in the village, but we are still without a permanent place to view these important finds.

Note – permission is required from the Barbuda Council before any investigations on Barbuda of any kind take place. Any historical items of interest found must be presented to Council and nothing can be removed from the island.

shark-tooth
skeleton found at Seaview

In 1998 a single tooth of the extinct Great White shark was found in the sink hole at Darby Cave: New Caribbean Locality for the Extinct Great White Shark. In the Seaview area, the skeleton of a 2,000 year old Arawak man was found with pottery grave goods including a ceremonial urn. He was nicknamed ‘George’ after Hurricane Georges which exposed his grave.