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Zoomorphic bench

Peabody Museum of Natural History

wooden bench with carved animal features

The Pitch Lake zoomorphic bench. Length 59cm, width 26cm, height 20cm. Courtesy of Peabody Museum of Natural History, ANT.145145.

The large zoomorphic bench from Pitch Lake, now in the collections of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, was found during commercial asphalt dredging between 1940 and 1950. WL Kalman, Managing Director of Brighton Terminal Ltd, donated it and a paddle to the museum in 1952, and it was sent back to Trinidad in 1955 for a dedicated display of Pitch Lake archaeological finds at the Victoria Institute (now the National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain). 

The low bench is carved of Andira sp. (angelin), with a zoomorphic head at one end and a square ‘tail’ at the other, each flanked by thick projections emerging from the upper surface to either side. Its bulkiness, sharp edges and unfinished appearance suggests that the carving was not completed. In its general style, size and iconography it is more in keeping with the seats still in use among indigenous groups of the Orinoco delta and surrounding regions. 

A number of samples were taken from the bench for radiocarbon dating, including a sample of the pitch still adhering to its surface (to provide an indication of the age of the pitch contaminant), and a wood sample, taken from the outer edges of the carving (to provide a date for when the bench was carved). The pitch sample gave a calibrated age range of ca 44,342-41,402 BC. The calibrated date from the bench was AD 427-587.

What is clear is that the significant age of the pitch, which at one point coated the entire surface of the bench, appears not to have affected the radiocarbon age of the carving. This suggests that the carving can be placed with some degree of certainty within Trinidad’s Cedrosan Saladoid period (AD 350-600), a period also known for the spread of Barrancoid influences from mainland South America (Venezuela).   

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