Archaeological Evidence

Kalinago Artifact Collection, Stone Axe and clay pots

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Kalinago Artifact Collection, Stone Axe and clay pots

From an archaeological perspective, it has generally been mapped and understood that the ancestors of the present day Kalinago, as the last wave of explorers, traversed the seas in dugout canoes between the Southern mainland and the islands and in the wake of their explorations and settlements, much of their exchanges left significant marks on the historiography of various islands of the archipelago.  This type of evidence must be understood to be valid because the scientific methods of archaeology allows for the study of human activity in the past and is primarily undertaken through the recovery and analysis of the material culture of a particular area. More importantly there is also a heavy reliant on environmental data that have been left behind by peoples inhabiting a geographical space, which includes artifacts, architecture, and cultural landscapes.

Archaeological sites with relevant artifact dating back over four thousand years (4000 yrs.) makes the knowledge of a Kalinago existence in the region available to us. According to Lennox Honychurch these are especially true from the extensive studies done in the Madinina (Martinique) and (Guadeloupe). This material culture is evidence of a settlements in existence for over a millennia and includes the canoe; illustrating movement between islands, stone and shell tools; highlighting technology for work, religious objects like Zemis; recalling a cosmogony, together with clay utensils and a mixture of ornaments.

It has been related by Louis Allaire that ceramics first appeared in the Antilles as part of the Saladoid culture (named for the Saladero site in the Orinoco basin in Venezuela) and that the Saladoid people appeared in Trinidad around 500 BC or a little later, and had reached Puerto Rico by about 250 BC. Furthermore, it was revealed that the Cedrosan variety of Saladoid ceramics was discovered to have appeared in Trinidad early on, although ceramics in the Antilles continued to closely resemble forms on the Venezuela coast into the Current Era.

It has also been highlighted that Cedrosan Saladoid vessels have a distinctive bell shape with ‘zone-incised cross-hatching’ and that many also have complex designs of white on red paint. Accordingly, later examples were decorated with purple, black, yellow and orange paint. And so these ceramics are described as “technologically fine, delicate, and graceful.”

According to Elizabeth Righter other ceramics styles are also known from the Antilles during this time period. For instance, the researcher reveals that Barrancoid trade wares, of a style that had developed in the Orinoco River valley around 1000 BC, have been found in the southernmost Antilles; Trinidad, Tobago, and Saint Vincent. It was also related that a variant of Saladoid ceramics called Huecan has been found from the north coast of Venezuela to Puerto Rico.  There is some evidence to suggest that the Kalinago may have also travelled as far north to the islands of the Bahamas and even the coasts of the Northern Continent and the Western Peninsular. Neil L. Whitehead makes notes of this by articulating that;

“For a people living on islands the practical importance of a canoe is obvious, but the [Kalinago] did much more than simply visit among the islands, they also went on long journeys to South America, even reaching and settling near the mouth of the Amazon. They may have also travelled to Florida and the Bahamas but their connections with Venezuela and the Guianas were far stronger.”

This appears to be evident in the typical historiography of the Kalinago that have always placed them in the archipelago after moving up the chain of islands coming from the southern continent.

According to Samuel Wilson:

“The sea voyage from the mainland to Trinidad is just 13 km and Tobago is another 32 km beyond Trinidad. Tobago is always in sight for a person making the crossing by canoe. The next step along the archipelago, however, from Trinidad or Tobago to Grenada, is more difficult. It is 125 km distant and out of sight beneath the horizon, even from high in the hills on a clear day. It is difficult to understand why people took their boats out beyond the horizon, but they have, nevertheless, done it countless times in human history. However, it is not always necessary to see an island or land mass to know it is there. The flights of birds out to sea often signal land beyond the horizon, and many of the Caribbean islands create their own plume of clouds, trailing to the leeward side. Also, very rarely, atmospheric conditions make it possible to see far beyond the horizon, when a temperature inversion acts as an atmospheric mirror, reflecting an image of very distant islands.” 

All of this evidence articulates that without a doubt, the Kalinago people did indeed occupy the eastern smaller islands and thus echoed the ideals of an efficacious progressing tribal society with similar features of the island dwellers before them.