What We Don’t Know About the Amerindians
Nearly bare-bodied people adorned with paint, animal teeth and armed with spears are depicted generically in Caribbean history books as the Amerindians—the Caribbean’s very first settlers that European explorers later met. As much as we know that they influenced our culture, the most tangible evidence we have is cassava, apart from those people with traces of Carib and Arawak in their DNA. The petroglyph-inspired logo for Stonefield Estate and a few rocks at Pigeon Island are perhaps the only reminders that Saint Lucia’s history is not restricted to slavery and colonialism.
But evidence of those we believe once called this island “Hewanorra” is more discernable than we realize. Proudly, the Lesser Antilles’ first archaeological organisation, the Saint Lucia Archaeological and Historical Society—founded in 1954—is currently embarking on a series of projects to fill in the gaps of existing historical research. The first focused on the artifacts left by the island’s aboriginal people; a passionate trio consisting of SLAHS’ elected secretary and anthropologist, Laurent Jean Pierre, the German archaeologist Dr. Michael Siedlaczek, and Ian Dunshee, a graduate anthropology student, conducted this project.
SLAHS will now be able to provide three-dimensional and Global Positioning System records of artifacts. Photogrammetry, a fairly recent user-friendly, accurate and portable technology was used for the 3D imaging. What’s so distinctive about a bunch of 3D images and GPS locations, compared to previous research? Jean Pierre explains: “Before, we collected stones, axes, but there was no measurement of the site, no documentation in terms of the surroundings and so forth. But now this research is done with scientific rigour, so it’s not just picking up stones.”
He elaborated: “If there is a tsunami or a flood and these places are covered with debris, sand and stone, they would be there buried and you don’t know.”
Some artifacts are also on private property while others are sometimes found but soon forgotten. This limits accurate research and discoveries on Amerindian culture, and information in Saint Lucia has been way behind some other Caribbean islands.
Jean Pierre continued: “If you GPS them, you’d be able to find the location, conduct a dig and bring it back to life. So that’s a very crucial and important activity for SLAHS. Generations coming will be able to know exactly where things are.”
From July 9-27, the group conducted the first thorough island-wide record of these artifacts. According to Siedlaczek, documented were “nine different known sites, including fifty-three total stones worked by prehistoric peoples containing a total of seventeen geometric figures, eighteen faces, five individual spirals, two ornamentations (similar to pottery decoration), and seventy stone bowls.”
As predicted, this project has already begun aiding archaeological discoveries. Said Siedlaczek: “A common motif of two large human-like figures with a smaller one of the same style was recognized at four different sites, showing that this image was of some importance or potentially recognized across the island during the prehistoric period.”
New sites were also unearthed. “Of the nine sites visited containing stone carvings,” Siedlaczek said, “one was not previously documented; meaning its inclusion in the project was an important step in beginning its preservation. In addition to this, eight new potential archaeological sites were found and documented for inclusion in a future study.”
Dunshee, who performed the photogrammetry, added: “The models can act as a digital facsimile of the object or surface scanned with an accuracy and precision which is a great benefit to preservation in case the original is lost, damaged, or destroyed. Because of its close likeness to the original, the 3D models can also be used by 3D printers as well as artisans to create high quality replicas that can be touched and used in museums to increase accessibility.
“3D models and similar products which result from 3D scanning of archaeological sites can be used in a wide range of new research methods, many of which are still being developed. We want to have a written and official record of where all these places are to be preserved for future research. It’s responsible for the mapping of these artifacts. When you map it and you have the background information.” It is hoped that Saint Lucians creating a small museum or souvenirs from the 3D replicas can form a heritage tourism industry.
The group thanks several Saint Lucians for their generosity on occasions when they might’ve gone without food or shelter. Notable mentions include the Lamontagnes in Fond Doux, “Asa”, Chris Pilgrim, the Jean Pierres from Laborie, Balenbouche Estate and the Hamilton Group and Stonefield Estate.
Thanks to three dedicated researchers, Amerindian artifacts can now be documented more accurately and thoroughly.