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National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago

Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust

front back and side views of an old wooden paddle

This large paddle is damaged in four areas – including a large crack through the mid-shaft – most likely a result of its recovery from Pitch Lake in the 1980s by commercial dredging. Length 129cm, width 10.4cm, maximum depth 5.6cm. Courtesy of National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago.

Pitch Lake cannot be paddled across – it is not a 'lake' filled with water – yet it has yielded a surprising number of paddles: at least four have been recovered, the largest group from a single site in the Caribbean.

The Pitch Lake paddles appear different from one another, and from the other pre-Hispanic paddles known from the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Bahamas, Dominican Republic). They range in length from 83cm to 144cm, including both the smallest and largest examples known from the Caribbean.

Some of this variety may reflect cultural differences – the shape of the blade, the style of the cross bar, the type of decoration, if any, etcera. It may also relate to the use of the paddles, for example replica miniatures may have been made specifically for a burial, to symbolically transport the deceased (fitting given that Pitch Lake was considered a portal to the world of the ancestors in myths recorded in the 19th century). 

front back and side views of an old wooden paddle

A finely carved paddle, with a decorative circular base to the lunar handle, recovered from Pitch Lake in 1971. Length 126.5cm, width 10cm, depth 3.4cm. Courtesy of Peter Harris collection, Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust.

Updates on the radiocarbon, wood identification and strontium results for these pieces will be added here soon.