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Wood carving in the Lesser Antilles

carved figure

Two views of a 'wood' pendant (likely lignite or subfossil wood) from the Morel site, Guadeloupe. Length 3.6cm, height 1.9cm, depth 1.7cm. Courtesy of Museé départmental Edgar Clerc (MEC-94.14.1)

A surprising number of ancient wood sculptures have survived from the Caribbean, mostly from the Greater Antilles (Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic/Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba) and The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands. This corpus includes over 300 carvings in museum and select private collections, as well as several hundred more from the waterlogged sites of Los Buchillones, Cuba and La Aleta, Dominican Republic.

In contrast, the wood carving traditions of the Lesser Antilles (the chain of islands stretching from Trinidad in the south to the Virgin Islands in the north) are poorly known, because so few organic pieces survive. Of the 18 wood artefacts known from this region (some of which may actually be carved of lignite or subfossil woods), 11 come from Pitch Lake.

The Pitch Lake material therefore provides a unique opportunity to investigate the importance of wooden artefacts in this region. Wood was the basis of material culture – from houses and canoes to ceremonial objects and domestic utensils – and where it survives, it provides a remarkable window onto past lifeways.

piece of carved wood

Three views of a wood carving recovered from Heywoods, Barbados, possibly carved from mastic (Bumelia mastichiodendron). Height 8.8cm, width 7.7cm, depth 2.9cm. Courtesy of Barbados Museum and Historical Society, H96.101.


Drewett, Peter, Guy Hunt, Maureen Bennel and Lys Drewett, 2000. Barbados Material Culture II: Shell, Stone and Wooden Artefacts. In 'Prehistoric Settlements in the Caribbean: Fieldwork in Barbados, Tortola and the Cayman Islands', pp. 103-112, Archetype Publications, London.