Radiocarbon dating has confirmed that human habitation of Grenada dates back at least two millennia. The original inhabitants were Arawak, who migrated north from the Orinoco River basin in South America, as evidenced by the style of the petroglyphs and stone tools they left behind. Alas, we know little more about them, because they were replaced by the Kalinago people, who were then decimated by the French in the 17th century. Nor does it help that archaeologists have given Grenada relatively limited attention, or that the government makes little effort to preserve what remains.
Fortunately, it’s still possible to see several ancient sites on Grenada. Local operator Caribbean Horizons organizes a Rock Art Tour with a private driver, and we booked the full-day excursion during our recent visit of the island.
We started in the small but informative Grenada National Museum in downtown St. George’s. It provided helpful context, if few impressive examples of artifacts. Nearby, in front of the National Stadium, we paused at an Amerindian work stone, a boulder pocked by numerous cupule indentations, used by ancient inhabitants to shape and sharpen stone tools. It stands a few hundred feet from where it was discovered, protected by a small enclosure.
Farther up the coast, in the town of Victoria, is an entirely unprotected boulder bearing petroglyphs. Our driver tried to discourage us from getting out of the car and giving it a look. “You can’t really see the petroglyph, because they haven’t outlined it in chalk,” he said. I got out of the car anyway. “But it’s on private property,” he protested. I was undeterred. As an incognito travel reviewer, trespassing is an unwritten part of my job description. I stood on the (public) road and was able to get a good view of one of the symbols, a masklike face of an animal or human. Our driver wasn’t able to explain much about it.
He did his best to guide but didn’t have a good sense of what’s interesting to a traveler and what’s not. “There is a Catholic church,” he said at one point. “It is used for weddings, funerals and church services,” he explained, as if to a newly arrived Martian. “Here is the center of the town of Sauteurs,” he later told us. “Along this street, there are shops and other businesses; there is a registry office.” I tried to convince him that it was unnecessary to point out all the filling stations along our route, but I was unsuccessful.
Sauteurs, in fact, has a moving site that we almost passed by: Leapers’ Hill. “You have to go through a cemetery to see it,” he warned us, for some reason. We walked through the graves, including one topped with a rusting cannon, to an obelisk with a cross-shaped cutout. It honored the Kalinago warriors who made a last stand against the French along the cliff. Defeated, the survivors hurled themselves over the edge rather than endure capture and enslavement. The sublime view from the cliff sharply contrasts the place’s tragic history.
We also stopped at Duquesne Bay, home to another set of petroglyphs. The road sign indicating the turn to the site lay in a ditch. “They may have to replace the sign soon,” our driver remarked, without irony. He led us along a deserted palm-lined beach dotted with colorful fishing boats to some boulders embedded in the bluff. Around one stood a protective, if unattractive, retaining wall, preventing the sand from covering up the symbols incised into it. The clearest glyphs depicted intimidating faces surrounded by spirals; what they represent is unknown.
Turning south and inland from Sauteurs, we headed to our final rock art site: the petroglyphs of Mt. Rich. It’s possible to hike along (or, more accurately, through) a river to get a close look at the massive boulder, but rather than attempt to work our way along the wet rocks, we observed the symbols from the road above. The egg-shaped stone appeared to have slid down the hillside to its present semi-inaccessible location. Numerous faces covered its surface, both animal and human, and one glyph appeared to show someone in an elaborate headdress. Some symbols stand out clearly, but a closer inspection with binoculars revealed that glyphs occupy much more of the surface than is obvious to the naked eye. The natural setting of this stone is beautiful, but its fallen state gives it an air of melancholy.
None of Grenada’s petroglyph sites are very well-protected or -maintained. Nevertheless, they afford the only insight available into the island’s ancient history. I found the tour fascinating, if occasionally vexing. I wish more information about the archaeological sites of Grenada was available; it wasn’t our guide’s fault that he had more to say about the island’s gas stations than its petroglyphs. Hopefully future archaeologists can tell us more about the original Grenadians and that conservationists better preserve the island’s heritage for future generations.