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Banwari Trace in Trinidad

The Oldest Site in the West Indies!

Issued: 18th March 2004

In November 1969, the Trinidad and Tobago Historical Society discovered the remains of a human skeleton at Banwari Trace. Lying on its left-hand side, in a typical Amerindian "crouched" burial position along a northwest axis, Banwari Man (as it is now commonly called) was found 20-cm below the surface.

This important archaeological site at Banwari Trace in Southwest Trinidad was recently featured in World Monument Watch 2004, an internationally acclaimed magazine that highlights the world's 100 most endangered sites. Dr. Basil Reid, Head of The University of the West Indies Archaeology Centre and Lecturer in Archaeology at UWI, recently wrote about the importance of this historical site to our cultural heritage and pre-Columbian history.

"Dated to about 5000 B.C. (years Before Christ) or 7000 B.P (years Before Present), it is the oldest pre-Columbian site in the West Indies. Banwari Trace sheds considerable light on the patterns of migration of Archaic (pre-ceramic) peoples from mainland South America to the Lesser Antilles via Trinidad between 5000 and 2000 B.C. The site provides rich insights into the lifeways of one of the earliest pre-Columbian settlers in the Caribbean. The Trace has also yielded human remains of Trinidad's oldest resident."

Dr. Reid explained that Banwari Trace's antiquity holds much significance for understanding the migratory patterns of Archaic peoples from South America into the Caribbean region. Also as the oldest Archaic site in the West Indies, Banwari Trace clearly indicates that southwest Trinidad was one of the first migratory "stops" for northward-bound Archaic settlers who eventually colonised several islands in the Caribbean archipelago.

Dr. Reid went on to detail the artifacts found at the site and their relevance. He stated that: " The Banwari Trace complex shows a highly distinctive cultural assemblage, typically consisting of artifacts made of stones and bones. 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…"

The 3,127.2-m² property on which the site is situated is now Government-owned, having being acquired from a private landowner in March 2000; while the skeletal remains of Banwari Man are presently in the custody of the Life Science Department, U.W.I., St. Augustine. Preserved with cellulose-in-acetone, the skeleton is in a secure environment and is very much available for future studies by a physical anthropologist.

"Banwari Trace, given its tremendous importance to the pre-Columbian history of Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean, requires that we commit significant financial and technical resources to its protection, preservation and professional research," Dr. Reid concluded.