Anguilla Local News

Pre-Historic Artifacts of Anguilla

  From the Anguilla Local News - Site Map.

[Click for larger view of artifacts] The Anguilla National Trust has a fantastic collection of Amerindian artifacts, many over 1000 years old. The newest additions to the collection come from the Archaeological and Historical Society, which has been collecting them for years. The Fountain, which is preserved as a future national park. was the source of some; others were found at Rendezvous Bay, Sandy Ground, Sandy Hill, and other sites of pre-historic occupation in Anguilla.

The beautiful carved face (out of a shell) and mask were probably worn around the neck as signs of rank and power. The tiny carved frog is beautifully detailed and is believed to have been made in Anguilla. The stone axe comes from about 1500 BC, before fixed agricultural settlements and pottery, when Anguilla was occupied by a fisher and hunter society. The snuff tube shaped like a shark was for use with ceremonial hallucinogenic powder called Cahoba. Also the ritual spatula, to cleanse yourself by vomiting away your impurities.

What is a Zemi?

[Click for larger view of zemi]

A Zemi was a religious idol, many having three points (although the two carved faces in the first photograph are also "zemi" in the general sense). They were made of several materials, including coral, limestone, and granite, which are represented in this collection. There is no granite on Anguilla, so the granite must have come from off-island. Some of the zemi stones have special curved details on the bottom, and some come to a steep and precise peak on top.

Zemi were used for good luck and to ward off evil spirits. They were planted in fields to make the crops grow and included in burials. They are also believed to have been kept in houses to worship ancestral spirits. Zemi stones were made in Anguilla in large quantities, which is known because of the manufacturing debris that has been found (flakes of granite and stone).

John Crock, Archaeologist

[Archaeology with John Crock] Archaeologist John Crock leads a team of volunteers who are sifting through cubic yards of samples taken from 1000 year old middens over the last year. So far they have used over 10,000 Ziploc bags! Artifacts found include stone tools, pottery, jewelry, and amulets.

The pottery is made of clay with sand mixed in. Under a microscope you can see the sand particles in the pottery, and the pottery found in Anguilla contains volcanic sand. So either they imported the volanic sand from another island, not very likely, or they imported the pottery, which implies an organized commerce. Other evidence of inter-island commerce is green limestone from St. Martin, flint from Antigua, and Jadeite from South America.
[Click for larger view of artifacts]

Here is part of an impressive decorated pottery bowl. The bowl would have been quite quite large, 18" across, with Pelican motif and Folded Wing "adornos" applied over the rim. Only 2% of the pottery found in Anguilla is decorated. This bowl is thought to have been used from A.D. 900-1200. It was found on Sandy Hill during a house construction.

The Pelican symbol is common on the pottery, as are other animals. It is possible that the pelican was revered, since no Pelican bones have been found in the excavations as yet, indicating they were not eaten (other birds have been found).
[Click for larger view of artifacts]

Here is another rim fragment of a large pot, this one from A.D. 1200-1400, and found in Rendezvous Bay. In this later period, the pottery is less complicated and less sophisticated. Instead of a separate pelican "adorno" applied to the rim, this bowl has an "applique" design built into the side of the pot.

By the way, finding a piece of the rim of a pottery is what makes an archaeologist's pulse quicken, because from that they can estimate the diameter and the height of the vessel, giving them a much better chance of deducing the purpose as well.
[Click for larger view of artifacts]

So far, only two intact, whole pots has been found in Anguilla. The one pictured here was discovered near Corito beach while excacating a cistern.

Notice also that only durable items are shown here. No pre-historic clothing or other soft goods have been found in Anguilla--they do not survive well in the climate of Anguilla.

Found at Barnes Bay/Coccoloba

[Click for larger view of artifacts]

When Coccoloba Resort on Barnes Bay was being renovated last year, the archaeologists were invited in to do some research during the excavations. The most spectacular find there was a pottery face. The pieces were spread out over several yards of dirt and it took precise detective work to match up the pieces. A few pieces are still missing and will probably never be found.

These professionally collected items are precisely catalogued as to where found and under what circumstances. Other items in the collection were collected by amateurs and the precise surroundings were not noted, or were impossible to assertain.

Some of the findings have been sent off island for specialized tests: bones, pottery, etc. Radio carbon testing can tell you the date when an organic item was created, but it costs $250 per date. Therefore, only the items which were found precisely sealed in the surrounding material have been sent for testing. When a date comes back, the archaeologists will know approximately when that strata of material was laid down. On the tests completed so far, the dates are in the range A.D. 700 to 1200, indicating the range of occupation time.

Sandy Ground Field Project

Related Web Pages:
Credits for digging.
Archaeology book.
Sandy Ground pictures.
Anguilla Pre-History.

In June 1997, a field archaeology team of 17 students from the University of Vermont visited Anguilla to work a site in Sandy Ground. Professor James Petersen led the month-long expedition. The Sandy Ground dig was very successful, including discovery of a whole ceramic jar and evidence of continuous human occupation for over 500 years. The students all received university credit and rated this as the best course they had ever taken, and six liked Anguilla so much that they stayed on to help with the processing of the dig material. The results are still being sifted, catalogued and analyzed by John and volunteers on Anguilla. This was the largest excavation in Anguilla to date, undertaken at a known archaeological site where people had found Amerindian artifacts for many years.
[Click for larger view of artifacts]

The dig generated a lot of public interest in Anguilla, with school classes and curious locals visiting to watch. This was the first site in Anguilla where sedentary farmers settle and had the longest continuous occupation, at least 600 years, between A.D. 500 and 1400. Columbus said there were no people on Anguilla when he claimed it for Spain, but the diseases this crew left in the Greater Antilles could have spread to Anguilla in the year before he "discovered it". It is estimated that there were between 3 and 6 million people in the Caribbean in 1492. Fifty years later there were only approximately 50,000. Most died of European diseases for which the indigineous people had no immunity.

According to professional archaeologists, the story of the fierce cannibal Caribs massacring the gentle Arawaks is a myth. No evidence to support it has ever been found. It is more likely that there was only one culture in the Caribbbean when Columbus arrived and that he used rivalries between tribes to label some people as sub-human in order to justify treating them badly under Spanish law.

Menu for Dinner

After the Sandy Ground dig, it is possible to draw up a hypothetical Dinner Menu:

What Next?

These finds form the foundation of the National Museum collection. They are being catalogued and organized into a professional archive that can be used by future researchers in mapping out the pre-history of Anguilla. Some of the artifacts will become part of permanent exhibition, while the rest will be kept in storage. John Crock is writing his Phd Dissertation on this work for the University of Pittsburgh and plans to publish portions as well. Professor David Watters, who did a smaller study in Anguilla in the 80s, will be one of John's supervisors on his dissertation.  Revised: October 30, 1997

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Copyright 1997. Bob Green
Anguilla Local News