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2 November 2009
Evidence of human habitation on Trinidad 7000 years ago

An archaeological team has found more evidence on a site at St John's Road, South Oropouche (Trinidad), that people lived there 7,000 years ago. The site is as old as that of the famed Banwari Man, whose remains were found in San Francique, Penal, 40 years ago. The two sites are about five kilometres apart. Proof of the antiquity of the site has come, in part, from the research done by Dr Basil Reid, senior lecturer with the Department of History at the University of the West Indies. Reid said radiocarbon testing done in 1994 suggested that the South Oropouche site was dated to approximately 5,000 BCE. Additional samples of shells collected at the site were recently sent to Beta Analytic Inc in Miami, Florida, USA, by the history department's Archaeology Centre. The results confirmed the finding that the site is ancient.
     The people who lived there are known as the Ortoiroids, who likely migrated from South America and settled at St John's, which is located near the Oropouche River, Godineau swamp and Gulf of Paria. Reid and his students did field work at the site two weeks ago and made new discoveries. He said a large stone pestle was found 60 centimetres inside one of the pits on a hilltop location. The pestle, he said, was probably used to pulverise edible roots, palm starch and seeds and may also have been used to pulverise red ochre, a mineral oxide which is naturally occurring at St John's, to be used as body paint during rituals. Also found were crab claws, oysters, nerite shells and bird and mammal bones which give insight into the diet of the people.
     The team of students also unearthed a sandstone adze (a tool used for smoothing rough wood), quartz and flint stone flakes and red ochre. Some of the stone flakes may have been used by the Ortoiroid natives as scrapers for food preparation, such as scaling fish, prying meat from shells and removing the hides of animals they ate-tree rats, red howler monkeys, pacas (large rodent), agoutis, red brockets (deer) and collared peccaries (pig-like animal).
     Reid said the first two groups of migrants to the Caribbean were the Ortoiroids and Casimiroids. The Ortoiroids probably migrated from the Guianas in South America while the Casimiroids may have come from Belize in Central America. Named after the Ortoire river in eastern Trinidad, the Ortoiroids came to the Caribbean around 5,000 BCE and settled in the Lesser Antilles as far north as Puerto Rico until 200 BCE. The St John's site was discovered in 1924 and excavated in 1953.
     Reid came to national attention back in 2003 when he and history department students excavated a hilltop site at Ghandi Village, Debe, and found evidence of a settlement dating back to 500-600 BCE. He returned three years later with more sophisticated equipment and caused a stir again, this time unearthing pottery, shells and stone tools.

Source: Trinidad & Tobago Express (25 October 2009)

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