Long before the planes, the cruise ships and the tourists ever came to the Caribbean; long before the region was settled by the British, or even discovered by Christopher Columbus, there was a civilisation on the Caribbean islands, then inhabited by native Arawak Indians that through their rock art can still be appreciated today.
Caribs, Arawak, Siboney. Kalinago - these early inhabitants lived on the Caribbean islands from around the time of Christ to 1650 AD (approx).
Although little remains of their ancient culture, they left their mark in a range of fascinating stone carvings (petroglyphs) which still exist on many islands including Anguilla, St Vincent, St Kitts, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe and Grenada. These mysterious drawings provide an insight into the early people of the islands and their beliefs, and are currently being studied by archaeologists from all over the world
But you don’t need to be an archaeologist to appreciate these carvings. As well as giving us a glimpse of the past, the petroglyphs are all visible in beautiful locations dotted around the islands
As you approach the entrance to the Wingfield Manor Estate, you will find fascinating Carib Petroglyphs. These drawings show two of the original carvings drawn by the Caribs, perhaps depicting images of their Zemi or gods.
Based on archaeological research we now know that, in common with many other Caribbean islands, Anguilla was first occupied by indigenous peoples as early as 1500 B.C. At least two of the sites identified thus far in Anguilla can be attributed to this era, referred to by archaeologists as the "Preceramic" or "Archaic" period.
The Fountain on Anguilla is a cave filled with Arawak-carved petroglyphs. Recently, some 40,000 Amerindian artifacts have been uncovered on the island... A few of the local residents are in the process of compiling an inventory of the remaining undisturbed sites, so tread carefully when checking them out
Where to see them
The cavern is in The Fountain National Park which comprises 14.46 acres of land located in the north east of the island on the western side of Shoal Bay. The Fountain Cavern is a large limestone cavern located on a ridge at about 70ft above sea level
Thomas Huckerby, an archaeological surveyor and British missionary on the islands of St. Vincent and Grenada first revealed the St. Vincent petroglyphs to the outside world in his 1914 American Anthropologist article: Petroglyphs of St. Vincent, British West Indies. There Huckerby commented: “Throughout the West Indies archipelago, there is nothing of greater archaeological importance than the St. Vincent petroglyphs”
Where to see them
North of Kingstown, lofty terrain rises before descending to the water. Here you can see the massive Carib Rock, with a human face carving dating from A.D. 600, but the locals say it looks as if someone painted it yesterday.
The Taino or pre-Taino site in southern Puerto Rico provides new information on Indian life in the area before the arrival of Columbus, from sacred rituals to eating habits. Tainos were the first Indians that Columbus met during his voyages, and they migrated from mainland several centuries before he discovered the New World.
The lady carved on the ancient rock is squatting, with frog-like legs sticking out to each side. Her decapitated head is dangling to the right. That's how she had been, perfectly preserved, for up to 800 years, until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came upon her while building a $375 million dam to control flooding in southern Puerto Rico.One interesting petroglyph depicts a human figure with frog legs. The frog appears to have been a figure of fertility to the Taino Indians. The creature was identified with feminine qualities and figures prominently in petroglyphs and pottery designs. There were also several tombs in which the bodies were located face-down with the legs bent at the knees, a pattern detected for the first time in the area. "The plaza may contain other artefacts dating from 600 A.D. to 1500 A.D., including piles of refuse from daily life," said Rivera.
Where to see them
The ancient petroglyph of the woman was found on a five-acre site in Jácana, a spot along the Portugues River in the city of Ponce, on Puerto Rico's southern coast. Among the largest and most significant site ever unearthed in the Caribbean, archaeologists said, it includes plazas used for ceremony or sport, a burial ground, residences and a ‘midden mound’ - a pile of ritual trash.
Some of the Taíno words were borrowed by the Spanish and subsequently by the English languages, and are modern day reminders of this vigorous race of people. These words include barbacoa (barbecue), cacique (chief), canoa (canoe), and huracán (hurricane).
Pearls, on Grenada's Eastern Coast has been described as 'the most important archaeological site in the Caribbean’. This area was a major stopping point for the Kalinago nation as they travelled northward from the Orinoco River basin in South America.
The Kalinago were drawn to Pearls by its rich soil, fishing, and natural resources. Their religion was based on the seasons and their cyclical patterns. The dry season was considered the men's domain, because their skills of hunting and gathering were in demand at this time. This was represented in pottery and other art by the bat, a creature which was more prevalent during the dry months Conversely, the wet season was regarded as 'feminine' in nature, a fertile time for growing crops and maintaining stability.
Other symbols commonly used by the Kalinago included owls (representing the underworld) manatees (once inhabitants of Grenada's bays and inlets), simple face designs, suns, moons, and cosmological figures.
Where to see them
The Pearls site is located on the windward eastern coast on rich agricultural land along the north side of the Simon River. The site is about one-quarter mile inland from the Atlantic Ocean
Work on all these sites continues as historians discover more and more of the rich history of the region. What do they mean? Whether a form of ancestor worship, or simple boundary markings, they are certainly not to be regarded as mere curiosities. In some locations they represent the only intellectual remains of the ancient inhabitants.
While visitors are encouraged to appreciate the carvings close up, measures are also in place to protect the petroglyphs, so when taking a rock tour of the islands, respect the work of these people who lived here long ago and contributed to the unique heritage we can appreciate today.