Monday, November 02, 2009

Archaeology in Trinidad

Evidence of human habitation on Trinidad 7000 years ago

An archaeological team has found more evidence on a site at St John's
Road, South Oropouche (Trinidad), that people lived there 7,000 years
ago. The site is as old as that of the famed Banwari Man, whose
remains were found in San Francique, Penal, 40 years ago. The two
sites are about five kilometres apart.

Proof of the antiquity of the
site has come, in part, from the research done by Dr Basil Reid,
senior lecturer with the Department of History at the University of
the West Indies. Reid said radiocarbon testing done in 1994 suggested
that the South Oropouche site was dated to approximately 5,000 BCE.
Additional samples of shells collected at the site were recently sent
to Beta Analytic Inc in Miami, Florida, USA, by the history
department's Archaeology Centre. The results confirmed the finding
that the site is ancient.

The people who lived there are known as the Ortoiroids, who
likely migrated from South America and settled at St John's, which is
located near the Oropouche River, Godineau swamp and Gulf of Paria.
Reid and his students did field work at the site two weeks ago and
made new discoveries. He said a large stone pestle was found 60
centimetres inside one of the pits on a hilltop location. The pestle,
he said, was probably used to pulverise edible roots, palm starch and
seeds and may also have been used to pulverise red ochre, a mineral
oxide which is naturally occurring at St John's, to be used as body
paint during rituals. Also found were crab claws, oysters, nerite
shells and bird and mammal bones which give insight into the diet of
the people.

The team of students also unearthed a sandstone adze (a tool used for smoothing rough wood), quartz and flint stone flakes and red ochre. Some of the stone flakes may have been used by the Ortoiroid natives as scrapers for food preparation, such as scaling fish, prying
meat from shells and removing the hides of animals they ate-tree rats,
red howler monkeys, pacas (large rodent), agoutis, red brockets (deer)
and collared peccaries (pig-like animal).

Reid said the first two groups of migrants to the Caribbean were
the Ortoiroids and Casimiroids. The Ortoiroids probably migrated from
the Guianas in South America while the Casimiroids may have come from
Belize in Central America. Named after the Ortoire river in eastern
Trinidad, the Ortoiroids came to the Caribbean around 5,000 BCE and
settled in the Lesser Antilles as far north as Puerto Rico until 200
BCE. The St John's site was discovered in 1924 and excavated in 1953.

Reid came to national attention back in 2003 when he and history
department students excavated a hilltop site at Ghandi Village, Debe,
and found evidence of a settlement dating back to 500-600 BCE. He
returned three years later with more sophisticated equipment and
caused a stir again, this time unearthing pottery, shells and stone

Source: Trinidad & Tobago Express (25 October 2009)