Rock Art of St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Compiled by Kathy Martin
Profile of Zone:
The Rock Art of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) consists of a series of petroglyphs engraved into andesite basalts. Most are deeply incised and very well defined, a few are more delicate and
appear to have been made by abrasion or rubbing.
The sites are distributed coastally or along river valleys. They occur at a density of roughly 1 site per 25 km² over the country as a whole. They are distributed along the East, South and West of St. Vincent and one was found on Canouan in the Grenadines.
None have been found so far in the still volcanically active North of the territory.
Dating these sites is contentious. Some are believed to be relatively recent (1000 to 1500AD) while some conservative estimate dates back, according to contextual ceramic evidence, ca. 2000 years to the Saladoid. Some authorities believe they may be much older.
Links with other sites:
St Vincent has many small faces along with complex faces, anthropomorphs, zoomorphs and abstracts in keeping with the rest of the Lesser Antilles and the region as a whole. It also has some much larger glyphs, 2m long and more. This is reminiscent of the larger figures of Venezuela and the Guianas. The Yambou Petroglyph no. 2, glyph 1 is a large rayed head and is the only representative of the “Elaborate Type” Petroglyph in the Antilles according to Dubelaar. These designs occur in the Guyanas and in adjacent areas of Venezuela and Brazil. Swaddled figures such as found at Petit Bordel are also reminiscent of some on the continent.
Some of the Vincentian Petroglyphs are entirely different from anything else in the region and may bear closer resemblance to glyphs in Africa particularly in relation to sun god images and scripts.
Barrouallie – Glebe Rock
Barrouallie – Ogam Stone
Yambou Valley- 6 sites
Practically every beach has work stones or “polissoirs” (stationary mortars and sharpening stones)
often at each end of it. They are also present in many of the river valleys.
Cup holes are present in a number of locations, the most striking being the 13 stones on top of a ridge above Chateaubelair and below the Soufriere. One of these stones show signs of pecking and appears to be a geometric petroglyph.
Frederick A.Ober “Camps in the Caribbees”, Boston, USA 1880,
Daniel G.Brinton “On a Petroglyph from the Island of St Vincent, W.I.” Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 1889,
Alphonse L.Pinart « Note sur les Pétroglyphes et Antiquités des Grandes et Petites Antilles » 1890,
(Manuscript copy in Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden, The Netherlands). 79
Karl T.Sapper „St Vincent“ Globus Illustrirte Zeitung für Länder und Völkerkunde 84, Braunschweig,1903,
J. Walter Fewkes “The Aborigines of Porto Rico and neighbouring islands” Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, 1907,
St Vincent Handbooks 1911 onwards,
Thomas Huckerby, “Petroglyphs of St Vincent, British West Indies”, American Anthropologist vol. xvi no.2 p. 238-48, 1914,
W.N.Sands “A newly discovered petroglyph” West India Committee circular, 1915, Thurn 1915,
Thomas A.Joyce 1916, Central American and West Indian Archaeology, London
Froidvaux 1920, St.Vincent (Colonial) Reports 1938-1965,
Van der Plas 1954,
Anonymous in the “Bajan” 1959,
I.A.Earle Kirby 1969, ‘Pre-Columbian Monuments in Stone’
Mario Mattioni 1971,
Fred Olsen 1971,”Petroglyphs of the Caribbean Islands and Arawak deities” Proceedings of the International Congress for the study of Pre-Columbian Cultures in the Lesser Antilles.
Fred Olsen1974 “On the Trail of the Arawaks”, University of Oklahoma Press
Henri Petitjean Roget 1975,
I.A.Earle Kirby 1977, “Pre-Columbian Monuments in Stone”
Ripley P. Bullen & Adelaide Bullen 1972, “Archaeological investigations in St Vincent and the Grenadines, West Indies” W.L Bryant Found. American Studies 8, Orlando,
Ripley P. Bullen 1973, “Certain Petroglyphs of the Antilles” Proceedings of the International Congress for the study of Pre-Columbian Cultures in the Lesser Antilles.
C.N.Dubelaar 1995, “The Petroglyphs of the Lesser Antilles The Virgin Island and Trinidad”
Uitgaven Natuurwetenschappelijke Studiekring voor het Caraїbisch Gebied 135, Amsterdam
Sofia Jönsson Marquet 2002 University of Paris
Claudius Fergus 2003 “The “Carib” Work Stones of Chateaubelair: curio or calendar system?”
All the known Petroglyphs have been photographed and are on file at the SVG National Trust headquarters. Kirby gives a complete record from the 1970s except for Peter’s Hope and Yambou 6.
The Bullens’ and Dubelaar’s publications are available in SVG and Fergus publication is on the web.
Jönssen Marquet produced data sheets but no copy has been lodged with the public institutions in SVG.
The archaeology of St.Vincent generated little interest during the colonial period to save the notes in reports that documented engraved stones existed. Some archaeological work was done as referenced above. Thomas Huckerby appears to have placed the most value on Vincentian petroglyphs, giving them pre-eminence in the whole of the Antilles (P239).
During the 20th century the professional archaeologists largely confined themselves to work in the Greater Antilles. Research in the Lesser Antilles was done by amateur and self taught archaeologists.
The first comprehensive survey of rock art in SVG was produced in the 1960s by Kirby. He presented it to the scientific community at the Third International Congress for the Study of Pre-Columbian Cultures of the Lesser Antilles (Grenada 1969) under the title “The Pre-Columbian Monuments of St Vincent, West Indies”. His publication followed shortly after.
Several of the Vincentian petroglyphs are entirely different from those of the rest of the region. Kirby sought answers far and wide and eventually concurred with the ideas of Barry Fell that they were Amerindian copies of things they had learned at second or third hand from the Mediterranean. He recognised images of the sun god (especially on the Glebe stone and the Indian Bay rock) together with traces of Libyan, Punic and Cypro-Minoan scripts. This may well have been via free Africans who were known to have been so numerous in St. Vincent, as similarities with West and South African petroglyphs are marked. The Black Carib people, who gave rise to the World Heritage Listed Garifuna culture, originated in St Vincent from the admixture of these free Africans with yellow Carib. Kirby also reported the significance of time and date with regard to the orientation of the Layou
Petroglyph. At the winter solstice the last rays of the setting sun hit the rock with spectacular effect.
The Yambou 2 and 3 sites also appear vividly on December 21st but at noon. The late Barry Fell of the California Epigraphic Society translated the writing on the Ogam stone as
“Mab visited this remote Western Isle”. Mab is believed to be descended from the sea farers who ravaged the Mediterranean around 1200 BC., when St Vincent was inhabited by the Ciboney.
Claudius Fergus’ work on the thirteen stones at Chateaubelair involved measurements. He related them to spirituality and astro-archaeological ideas in the Orinoco and to the work of Fred Olsen, who also studied the Glebe stone and saw it as the sun God, noting its uniqueness in the Caribbean.
Protection: Legislation under consideration.
One site in SVG, and one only, has been painted. This site is Buccament and the paint was applied to the series of carvings there by a person with mental disabilities. It was decided that, as the base material is andesite agglomerate rather than massive andesite more harm than good would be done trying to remove the paint.
The Indian Bay rock has had additions crudely scratched around the main glyph. The rock lies between two popular beaches and tourist police now patrol those beaches.
The Canouan stone was moved during hotel development and has not yet been relocated.
Historically two stones at Barrouallie were rescued from building sites and placed in the Yard of the Barrouallie Secondary School for protection. Students at the school are trained to give information about them to visitors.
The SVG National Trust is negotiating with the International Airport Development Company over the future of one site which lies within the boundary for the planned new airport.
In keeping with a country which has been largely agricultural until the 1990s the management of rock art sites has been largely informal. Sites have been protected by laws of trespass on private property.
Any infringements are reported through small community networks and people generally have taken a pride in “the Carib stones”.
While we have not yet worked out how to measure the contribution of tourism to the economy it is clear that it is now playing a bigger role and is expected to increase substantially in the not too distant future. To facilitate the development of rock art sites to accommodate tourists and the visiting overseas
based Vincentian diaspora, in addition to use of the sites in helping to define a national identity, formal management plans will need to be developed.
The Layou site was purchased by Government in 2003. It has been fenced and signage erected. A gentleman is employed to maintain and monitor the use of the site. Visitors come mainly with tour
guides, but this is not mandatory.
Several of the sites are being cared for by local community groups. One of the sites is in use as a Shrine by the Roman Catholic Church.
International Airport development.
International Hotel development.
Lack of awareness of the importance of some lesser sites by developers.
Lack of Funding required to protect and manage sites when, even if entry charges are instituted, the visitor numbers in the short term would not be sufficient to maintain economic viability.
SVG probably has the highest density of rock art per unit area in the entire region. It is an outstanding place of long term aboriginal habitation and bridges the petroglyph art between the Guiana plateau/Eastern Orinoco and the Northern Antilles. Its potential to contribute to a regional nomination to the WH List is out of all proportion to its size. Several sites are worthy of special mention.
SVG has a population of just 110,000 people. So far no native Vincentian has been trained in Archaeology so we still have to seek out technical advice from abroad. One visiting home owner
became so fascinated by the sites here that she studied archaeology first to M.Sc. then to Ph.D.Level.
She now advises the SVG National Trust.
As tourism takes off it is becoming clear that several initiatives are required:
1. Establishment of proper museum facilities/interpretation centres;
2. Send nationals for training in archaeology/museum curation, conservation;
3. Develop formal management plans for heritage sites like the more special rock art sites.
Prepared in response to request from ICOMOS. ICOMOS is an international non-governmental organization of professionals, dedicated to the conservation of the world's historic monuments and sites.