Back in January local Montserrat hikers Shirley Osborne and Vaughn Barzey stumbled upon an unexpected surprise in the forested hills near the town of Soldier Ghaut: ancient petroglyphs scrawled across a mossy rock wall dating between 1000 and 1500 years old. Officials refrained from announcing the discovery until it could be verified by researchers and last week the findings were confirmed to be authentic on the Montserrat National Trust’s website .
In an interview with the Guardian, Sarita Francis, director of the MNT, says “We have Amerindian artifacts on the island, but had not seen petroglyphs. These are the first, that we know of, that have been found here.” Researchers plan to use carbon dating to learn more about the exact origin of the petroglyphs.
The discovery comes as a welcome addition to the recorded history of the small nation, especially since the still-active Soufriere Hills volcano destroyed nearly half of the island in 1995. Dubbed the Exclusion Zone, the eruption site now serves as the island’s most significant tourism draw, as visitors can explore the hardened pyroclastic flows that buried the nation’s capital.
Petroglyphs have been found in several other Caribbean countries, including Puerto Rico, Belize and the Dominican Republic, among others, and some have noted that carvings similar to the Montserrat petroglyphs have been located on the neighboring island of St. Kitts. Previously found artifacts suggest that ancient peoples first populated Montserrat between 2500 and 4000 years ago; Arawak groups eventually occupied the island, but were driven from its shores by the Caribs in the late 1400s.
The Montserrat National Trust has posted the findings on its Facebook page, and many are already calling for preservation efforts to be instituted in the area where the petroglyphs were found.