Cedrosan Saladoid effigy vessel recovered from the site of Erin, Trinidad, and dating to ca. AD 300-500. Photo courtesy of National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago.
Trinidad today is an island of many cultures, its cosmopolitan nature deeply rooted in prehistory, when South American migrants first settled the area while others used it as a stepping stone for the first movements into the Caribbean islands.
Periods including the Saladoid (from ca. 500 BC) and Barrancoid (from ca. AD 250) provide evidence for fresh waves of immigrants, who brought with them new technologies, unique crafting styles and new traditions. The cultures that flourished on the island maintained strong connections not only to the ‘motherland’ but also to the diaspora communities along the island chain to the north, so Trinidad became a centre of trade in the circulation of exotics from these regions by AD 500.
Although connections waxed and waned over the centuries that followed, Trinidad’s communities prospered and changed with the continued influx of peoples, so that when Europeans first arrived in 1498 at least six cultures, with different languages and material cultures, were known to inhabit the island, including the Arawak speaking Nepoyo and Suppoye and the Carib Yaio, who occupied the Pitch Lake area.
A view of Pitch Lake, looking west. The original banks of the lake would have reached the same level as the buildings in the distance. Since the mid 1800s the commercial extraction of pitch has dropped the lake’s level by nearly 4 metres.