Sunday, December 17, 2017

Quarrying of mountain destroying site

Major First Nation archaeological find in Chaguaramal...


Ceramic find: In his left hand Lewis shows the base of a ceramic find. In his right is the rim. Part of the quarried mountain is in the background.

Mark Fraser

The first piece of evidence that confirmed our belief the mountain of Chaguaramal has the potential to be one of the most important of our archaeological sites in Trinidad turned up at the base of the mountain just above the old high-water mark of the main Guanapo river.

The find turned out to be a large stone tool 20 inches long by seven inches wide on one side. The stone is one of those that were chiselled to a thin edge on one end to form an effective digging tool. This one showed markings that meant it was studiously fashio­ned and well worked.

Eric Lewis, founder of the Moruga Museum and a practising archaeological researcher, shared his concern with this column, his assistant, about the critical status of this site.

“Chaguaramal is a word derived from the language of our First Peoples. Judging from the number of artefacts we have unearthed today, this mountain played a very important part in the daily lives of our First Settlers. This would have been one of the great heights revered by our Peoples.

“However, continued quarrying continues to destroy this very important piece of our history. Based on my observation of the area and classification of the pieces we have unearthed here, further archaeological exploration of this rich area is imperative in order to safely retrieve these items of historic and prehistoric eras.”

The first site we surveyed supported the fact that the level of the main river is a mere trickle of its past voluminous flow. Based on strategic soil profile and samples done, the former wide bed of the river is now heavily silted from deposition transported from the quarrying of the mountain.

After Lewis did a survey of the area, we dug the first pit on a small rise some way from the bank of the river. Lewis skimmed a half inch of the surface, resourcefully using the split half of a bamboo stalk to minimise

the possibility of damaging anything of archaeological value.

Within the surveyed 15-by-20-foot area, we dug two pits to an initial depth of six inches and measuring two feet squared. After sifting the soil, several pieces of ceramics were found, particularly in pit two. Findings of side pieces, bases and rims excited us to continue our excavation. We bagged two tiny specks of charcoal for later carbon dating.

Chaguaramal is Trinidad’s third highest mountain. It is a major watershed area giving birth to nume­rous springs and life-nurturing waterways. The popular Guanapo Springs emanate from the western flank of this mountain, a flank that is being quarried away at an alarming rate.

According to Lewis, the rich bounty of this part of the mountain would have been one of the reasons for the presence of our First Peoples here. The medicinal value of the vegetation, the presence of numerous species of wildlife, the fertility of the well-watered soil and the overall suitability of the area for settling would have encouraged First Peoples in this lush valley of Guanapo.

“Considering the exceptional finds we unearthed during the time we spent here, I think that the entire area of Chaguaramal is ideal for archaeological research, that is without the disturbance and destruction that the quarrying is responsible for. We would never know how much of our precious past is lost each day to mining. These are non-renewable resources and when these are destroyed, this means that they are lost forever.”

Guanapo Valley is the eastern neighbour of Arima Valley, where our First Peoples had an established settlement. Settlers in Guanapo would have originated from Arima.

Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples community, expressed his elation about this latest archaeological discovery.

“We have always known that our ancestors did occupy that area. For us, it as an awakening. Our ancestors are really speaking to us and we now need to inter­pret. It is always a struggle to stop the present-day disregard and destruction of our history in the name of development, especially when people are making money.

“This breakthrough means that people would be made more aware of their origins and would join with us to preserve what’s left of it so that we could better understand and learn from the lessons handed down to us that would still apply to our lives today.”