Black Pitch, Carved Histories: Prehistoric wood sculpture from Trinidad’s Pitch Lake

Author(s): Joanna Ostapkowicz; Fiona Brock

Year: 2015


Since 6000 BC, if not earlier, Trinidad has been the gateway into the Caribbean for waves of South American migrants - the first stepping stone in the long chain of islands that make up the archipelago. Its critical position to the settlement of the Caribbean is reflected in its deep archaeological record, documenting the complex interactions between its diverse peoples over millennia. Unique among its archaeological sites is Pitch Lake, one of the largest natural deposits of asphalt in the world, which over the years has yielded extremely rare wood carvings - to date the largest concentration of ancient wood artefacts in the Lesser Antilles. However, unlike any systematic archaeological excavation, these carvings have been dredged up as a consequence of commercial pitch harvesting, and any association between them, or the skeletal remains that were also recovered, have been lost. The current multi-disciplinary study, supported by the UK’s AHRC (2014-2016) and in its early phase, aims to place these objects in a chronological and cultural perspective through AMS radiocarbon dating, material identification and stable isotope analyses.

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Cite this Record

Black Pitch, Carved Histories: Prehistoric wood sculpture from Trinidad’s Pitch Lake. Joanna Ostapkowicz, Fiona Brock. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 397402)

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Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -90.747; min lat: 3.25 ; max long: -48.999; max lat: 27.683 ;