Archaeology > Pre-Colombian

Banwari Trace

Written by Peter Harris

There are several Archaic sites that have been identified throughout the Caribbean, but of all the sites, Banwari Trace is the oldest, with radiocarbon dates indicating a chronology of approximately BC 5000. Radiocarbon chronology suggest that the first period of Archaic occupation spanned from approximately BC 5200 to 4100, whereas the second episode of midden accumulation probably lasted from BC 4100 until BC 3500. The antiquity of the Banwari Trace site is further evidenced by the presence of only freshwater shells in the lower layers, dating from the time before Trinidad was separated from the mainland by the postglacial rise in sea level.

The site sheds considerable light on the patterns of migration of Archaic (pre-ceramic) peoples from mainland South America to the Lesser Antilles via Trinidad between BC 5000 and 2000. It provides rich insights into the lifestyles of one of the earliest pre-Columbian settlers in the Caribbean. Related Archaic cultures have been found on the adjacent mainland of South America. Banwari Trace represents the first major pre-Columbian settlement in the West Indies.

The Banwari Trace complex shows a highly distinctive cultural assemblage, typically consisting of artifacts made of stone and bone. Objects associated with hunting and fishing include bone projectile points, most likely used for tipping arrows and fish spears, beveled peccary teeth used as fishhooks, and bipointed pencil hooks of bone which were intended to be attached in the middle to a fishing-line. A variety of ground stone tools were manufactured for the processing of especially vegetable foods, including blunt or pointed conical pestles, large grinding stones and round to oval manos.

In November 1969, the remains of a human skeleton were discovered at Banwari Trace by the Trinidad and Tobago Historical Society. Lying on its left-hand side, in a typical Amerindian “crouched” burial position. Dubbed “Banwari Man” (or, as some think, Banwari Woman) was found 20-cm below the surface. Based on its stratigraphic location in the sites archaeological deposits, its burial has been placed shortly before the end of the occupation, approximately BC 3,400 or 5,400 years ago. Hailed as the oldest resident of Trinidad, Banwari Man is an important icon of Trinidad’s early antiquity.

Banwari Trace was featured in World Monument Watch 2004, an internationally acclaimed magazine that showcases the world’s 100 most endangered sites.

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