Grenada is a developing small-island state at the southernmost end of the Lesser Antilles (Eastern Caribbean), just 90 miles from Venezuela and Trinidad. Given its location, the “Spice Isle” holds many insights into the waves of migrations that populated the Caribbean archipelago in pre-Columbian times— and even Protohistoric times (1492-1649), before Europeans had permanently settled the island. Following European colonization, most Amerindians (as they are known in the Caribbean) left and their settlements were eventually obliterated by plantation agriculture. At the height of Atlantic slavery, the small island (just 8 x 15 miles long) contained about 25,000 enslaved (1787 census, Phillip 2010:40), with a much smaller portion of European and later East Indian indentured servants. Today, Grenada’s population of ~110,000 are descended from these groups, in varying proportions. That includes Amerindians, from whom it is estimated 0.4 – 5.4% of Grenadians contain indigenous (Amerindian) mitochondrial DNA (Benn Torres et al. 2007).
My dissertation research focused on reconstructing the settlement chronology of Grenada’s pre-Columbian population by conducting an island-wide archaeological survey that analyzed radiocarbon samples, ceramic types, and soil geochemistry to locate and describe basic characteristics of the island’s archaeological resources (~86 sites and counting) (see Hanna 2017 for a preliminary discussion). An extension of this research, supported by a US Fulbright Fellowship, involved public education by engaging local people to help conduct the research, offering public lectures, and working with the government to promote and protect Amerindian heritage sites.
Grenada is generally considered a poor country, suffering many of the common byproducts of modernizing development. Most of the country’s rich live near the capital, St. George’s, the center of the commercial and tourism sectors. Several cruise ships flood the town during peak tourism season, but their economic impact is highly localized. Of the few Amerindian sites that may interest tourists (and locals), the rock art holds the most promise: eight petroglyph sites and eleven workstone sites (large boulders with “grinding grooves” used either for stone-tool making and/or food processing). These are spread out along the western site of the island, but little information is available to the public, let alone signs demarking them. If these sites were better managed and publicized, they could add value to underprivileged parts of the island and generate interest in protecting other heritage sites.
So together with my counterpart in the Ministry of Tourism, Michael Jessamy, we came up with the “Petroglyph Path”—a tour of Grenada’s rock-art sites up the island’s western highway. With the support of the Africana Research Center (ARC) and the help of others in the Ministry of Tourism, we printed fourteen outdoor signs and installed them at two workstones and five petroglyph sites (seven sites altogether). These included road signs pointing the way and large informational signs at each site. We also developed a brochure to distribute to tour operators and a website for self-guided tours (accessible through QR codes on each sign).
The Petroglyph Path culminates at Mt. Rich Petroglyphs, a prolific series of engravings across several river boulders in the middle of the island. While we may never know what the petroglyphs actually represent, archaeologists generally interpret them to signify sacred places where ancestor spirits would gather. Given the number of images, Mt. Rich was truly a special place. Jessamy and I linked up with another aid organization, the Market Access and Rural Enterprise
Development Programme (MAREP) who was helping a local youth group (MYCEDO) to build a lookout building for these petroglyphs (which are in a deep ravine). Recognizing that the Mt. Rich community was already trying to promote their local heritage (!), we resolved to help them as much as possible. MAREP helped restore the building while Jessamy and I provided tour-guide training and developed the signs. We hope Mt. Rich can be a case-study in community heritage tourism that can be applied elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the heritage signs are raising more awareness about Grenada’s archaeological resources, bringing visitors to underprivileged communities in the rural countryside, and encouraging more efforts to protect these and other heritage sites around the island.