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More than 100 pre-Columbian burials unearthed in Guadeloupe


The National Institute for Preventive Archaeology Research (Inrap) announced the discovery of 113 graves dating from pre-Columbian times in Abymes, Guadeloupe. In addition to these burials, a sugar plantation from the colonial era has also been unearthed. 


More than 100 pre-Columbian burials unearthed in Guadeloupe
Discovery of three pre-Columbian burials (11th-13th centuries)
[Credit: Thomas Romon, Inrap]

Rarely has an archaeological site been so prolific in Guadeloupe. During the first phase of the excavation, archaeologists uncovered a high density of remains consisting of pits, post holes and burials. These testify to several phases of occupation by pre-Columbian populations during the Late Ceramic Age - also known as the Late Neo-Indian period - around the 11th and 13th centuries AD.




A few hundred post holes correspond to habitat structures and about fifty pits are linked to domestic activities. The filling of some of the pits has yielded numerous shards of pottery, stone tools, heating stones, bones of rodents, reptiles, birds and remains of crabs and shells, discarded after consumption. These domestic remains are associated with 113 burials, a figure hitherto unmatched in Guadeloupe.


More than 100 pre-Columbian burials unearthed in Guadeloupe
Excavation of burial 60 [Credit: Jessica Laguerre, Inrap]

More than 100 pre-Columbian burials unearthed in Guadeloupe
View of burial 29 [Credit: Thomas Romon, Inrap]

More than 100 pre-Columbian burials unearthed in Guadeloupe
Stratigraphy of pit 415 and its filling (11th-13th centuries)
[Credit: Nathalie Serrand, Inrap]

The burials concern both adults and children, laid on their backs, semi-seated, or seated on their sides. The bodies were buried folded in on themselves: the arms often bent over the abdomen or the thorax, the legs compressed over the forearms, elbows or the thorax. Bindings or sacks are used to ensure this position. Handling after burial is noticeable.




The study of the abundant finds from the site, the examination of the archaeological material, the radiocarbon dating and the analysis of ancient DNA will make it possible, among other things, to identify the different phases of occupation, to understand the spatial organisation of the remains, and to provide information on the health status of the buried population and their family ties. Did the burials take place in a village context? And more specifically in family carbets (open Amerindian houses on posts)? Did the living and the dead cohabit or did these burials post-date the settlement?


More than 100 pre-Columbian burials unearthed in Guadeloupe
View of burial 67 [Credit: Jessica Laguerre, Inrap]

More than 100 pre-Columbian burials unearthed in Guadeloupe
View of burial 25 [Credit: Thomas Romon, Inrap]

More than 100 pre-Columbian burials unearthed in Guadeloupe
View of burial 38 [Credit: Thomas Romon, Inrap]

This research will contribute to the advancement of knowledge about the Late Neo-Indian period. This period is characterised by economic and cultural changes, initiated around the 9th century throughout the Lesser Antilles archipelago, which resulted from a process of regionalisation of cultures, linked to the dispersion of groups throughout the Caribbean archipelago. Paleoclimatic changes identified in the Lesser Antilles probably also contribute to cultural changes.




Generally speaking the people led a sedentary and agriculturally based lifestyle, although changes appear in the fields of artisanal production (pottery in particular), habitat, or food as well as in the socio-political organisation of groups.


More than 100 pre-Columbian burials unearthed in Guadeloupe
View of burial 67 [Credit: Jessica Laguerre, Inrap]

To the west of the pre-Columbian site, remains from the colonial period have also been discovered. Nearly 200 structures were excavated, revealing the presence of agrarian developments, several pole-mounted buildings and a masonry building. Cane cultivation and sugar production seem to have been the main activities, as evidenced by the ceramic objects, mainly sugar forms and molasses pots. These remains are linked to the sugar house "L'Espérance" or "Mamiel", which was in operation in the 18th and 19th centuries, part of which is still preserved on the elevation.


Source: Inrap [trsl. TANN; May 04, 2021]



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