Study of Trinidad’s Pitch Lake artefacts identifies earliest wood carvings from the Caribbean

04-12-2017 by Erin McGowan

Dr. Joanna Ostapkowicz, Research Associate in Caribbean Archaeology at the School of Archaeology, has co-authored a paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports which documents the earliest wood carvings from the Caribbean – stretching back to 3200 BC. The multi-disciplinary study focused on a collection of wood carvings recovered from Pitch Lake, Trinidad during commercial asphalt harvesting, and now in museum collections (part of the AHRC-funded project Black Pitch, Carved Histories: Prehistoric Wood Sculptures from Trinidad's Pitch Lake). The artefacts underwent radiocarbon dating at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, wood identification and strontium isotope analysis. The international team of investigators included colleagues from Leiden University, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Cranfield University, the USDA Forest Service and National Herbarium of Trinidad and Tobago. The project developed methodologies specifically targeting pitch contamination, and established the first detailed isoscape for the twin islands based on biologically available strontium values on modern trees (undertaken by the School of Archaeology’s John Pouncett). The project documented a considerable taxonomic range of woods employed for the various utilitarian and ceremonial items recovered, a chronology for Pitch Lake spanning ca. 3200 BC – AD 700 and the identification of an imported artefact from the South American mainland.

The paper can be accessed here:

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