02 April 2013

Banwari Man - Trinidad's Oldest Resident.

Banwari Man - Trinidad's Oldest Resident.
By Luna MoonLightandShadow
Moon, Light and Shadow | Tuesday, April 2, 2013

In as much as my first post for the A to Z Challenge 2013 was about Archaeology, I've selected this article about the oldest resident on my island: Banwari Man. I was hoping to visit the site where he was found but perhaps later in the year.

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 and is presently located at the museum of the University of the West Indies. Its feet were higher than the rest of the body, and unfortunately were excavated and bagged separately. Only two items were associated, a round pebble by the head and a needle point by the hip. Its situation in a shallow pocket of humus, apparently excavated into the shell midden, and subsequently covered by normal shell refuse, places burial shortly before end of occupation, probably about 5500 years ago.

The archaeological site at Banwari Trace where the skeleton was found is located in Southwest Trinidad, and was featured in World Monument Watch 2004, an internationally acclaimed magazine that highlighted 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, 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.”

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 colonized several islands in the Caribbean archipelago.

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 man, or woman, is still the oldest skeleton in the West Indies, and its survival for 5000 years at 20cm below the surface is nothing short of miraculous.

This was my B post in the A to Z Challenge 2013. I live on the tiny Caribbean island of Trinidad, the larger of the two islands which make up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. My theme this year is True to Trinidad and Tobago. I invite you to explore my home with me. The rest of my A to Z posts can be found here.

Original articles on Banwari Man can be found here, here, and here.

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