Montserrat’s National Trust said the pre-Columbian petroglyphs are the first find of their kind on the island in the eastern Caribbean. Photograph: mhmon. Initial analysis suggests Montserrat’s petroglyphs are between 1,000 and 1,500 years old, Francis said, though carbon dating will paint a clearer picture of the images’ origins.
On social media, Montserratians commented on the petroglyphs’ similarities to those that have been found on St Kitts, another nearby island. Mentore said that indigenous Arawak petroglyphs and other evidence of pre-Columbian settlement have been as far north as Cuba, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola.
Francis said that she hoped further studies will reveal the messages, if any, encoded in the carvings. “They really add to Montserrat’s unique history,” she said. “To the history of people being on Montserrat, throughout time.”
Archaeological evidence suggests that ancient peoples first lived on Montserrat – today a British Overseas Territory – between 2,500 and 4,000 years ago. Arawak-speaking groups later inhabited the island, but are believed to have vacated it by the late 1400s following raids by another indigenous group, the Caribs.
Montserrat, which is approximately 16km (10 miles) long and 11km wide, came under British control in 1632. Today, the majority of the population is descended from colonial-era Irish settlers and African slaves.
George Mentore, a University of Virginia anthropologist who studies the indigenous cultures of the Caribbean and Amazonia said that similar engravings had been found along rivers in the north of South America where Arawak- and Carib-speaking groups live today.
“They’re obvious statements of human presence,” he said. “I think it’s pretty obvious that they’re sacred, in one way or another.”