October 14, 2005
Digging for our Vincy roots

In the West Indian section of the Journal ‘Archaeological Research’ No.8 W. Keegan describes a progression of Native Americans migrating from Yucatan to Cuba, Hispaniola and a few of the Lesser Antilles islands from about 4000BC onwards.

From 2000BC a similar series of migrations took place from South America northwards through the Eastern Caribbean. These people were Stone Age hunter-gatherers and evidence of their presence so long ago is not obvious today.{{more}}

From 500 BC onwards, a new technology came to the islands which literally made history. The people started to make clay pots and these pots, or fragments from them, just lie in the earth waiting to tell their story when we eventually dig them up.

The ceramic cultures fall loosely, according to the archaeologists, into four series.

• Saladoid;

500BC -600AD

• Troumassoid;


• Suazoid;

AD 1000-1450

• Island Carib; AD 1400 onwards

At the National Trust Headquarters in the Old Public Library is housed the regionally important Kirby collection of ceramics. Saladoid pottery which is amongst the finest in the Americas, has been collected from some 60 of the 111 recorded sites in St. Vincent and from several of the 38 known sites in the Grenadines. It is recognizable from its red, black, white on red and polychrome painting, its cross hatched, incised and punctuated patterns and the beautiful adorno lug handles modeled on native animals like the bat, frog, turtle, coral snake and pelican. These people grew cassava, ate shellfish and were excellent hunters and fishermen. They worked with textiles, shell and stone tools, basketry, narcotics and exotic stone brought by trade.

The Saladoid period merged into Troumassoid with additional influences from South America. The pottery we have found from this period shows a marked decrease in quality. Though still often red, black and white painted, it is much plainer and cruder than earlier work with fewer zoomorphic adornos. Clay spindle whorls, used in spinning thread, have been found from this time.

The decline in pottery standard continued into the Suazoid series. Vessels from this age are plain and bulky. Rim shards can be found with finger indentations, some so small they must have been done by children. This pottery is often red painted. Intriguing flat human head adornos with big eyebrows and noses are on show from this period at the National Trust.

The Island Caribs moved into the vacuum created by the disappearance of the Suazey culture. Their pottery-making tradition carried through to the present day in islands like St Lucia.

The National Trust, under the guidance of Dr Jim Miller of the University of Florida, Dr. Richard Callaghan and Mr. Joe Moravetz of the University of Calgary, and with funds from the American Embassy in the Eastern Caribbean is documenting our prehistoric artifacts.

Although conducting digs is a job best left to professional archaeologists, we are grateful to private individuals who rescue pottery from disturbed sites such as the sea shore, river beds and building excavations.

Please keep it safe in your custodianship as part of our national treasure and give details of what you have for us to record in the National Catalogue of Prehistoric Artifacts.

• Phone 4512921 on any weekday afternoon or email: [email protected]