What We Don’t Know About the Amerindi­ans

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - Clau­dia Elei­box

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.

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