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Sixteen years ago, the skeletal remains of a prehistoric man was found in Washington, USA. Now called Kennewick Man – named after the district where the skull and bones were found – this almost six feet tall man was found and ascertained to have been around middle age at the time of death.
Hima Gurung, Dr Krs Rampersad, Archaeologist Peter Harris &Chairman of the Siparia Regional Corporation Leo Doodnath at the Banwari Archeological Site in San Francique, Trinidad. krisrampersadglobal
In the 16 years since the find, ancient Kennewick’s bones have not just been carbon dated – which positions him to almost 8,000 years B.C., but within the past decade he has also been through various examinations including DNA testing. The test results controversially links his ancestry more closely to Asians than Native American.
The bones of this man (one cannot assume he was ‘goodly’, nor perhaps too, a ‘gentleman’) has proven to be an important part of the puzzle on human migration patterns, even if moreso to throw a spoke in conventional thinking to date on hitherto-held beliefs on the accepted pattern of migration to the Americas.
The findings have contributed – not in clarifying, but in escalating the temperature of the debate on what is still one of the most questionable theories of human civilisation – that is, that native Americans were descendants of a one of two major migration movements: an initial population of the Americas through East to West movement via the Alaskan Bering Straits; and a second wave marking the colonial period. Though we have all been taught in schools to accept this theory as fact, there have been many loopholes (to which our textbooks seemed oblivious).
The analyses of Kennewick’s bones showed traits that did not conform to conventional thinking of two main migrationary movements as has been piloted ’till then; it did not link him with modern native Americans but with Asians, and instead has contributed to supporting alternative theories of other significant waves of migration to the Americas.
There is more to this story, some of it rooted in charges of political shenanigans and distortion, but for our purposes, the point of this story is really to establish that the find of Kennewick’s skeletal in he USA has sparked nearly two decades of global research, investigations, studies, debate and critical thinking on the peoples of the Americas. Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean and Latin America could have led and inspired this debate, at least for the past three decades. Let’s revisit this.
It is 1969. Almost a decade before Mr Kennewick is unearthed in the USA. A team of archeologists, including Peter Harris, responding to local village suspicions at shells found uncharacteristically inland of the Oropuche Lagoon in Trinidad. They start digging. What they found was then among the oldest human fossil discovered in the region. Now known as Banwari (wo)man (the gender is yet to be determined),
From evidence from the site, Banwari’s people where believed to be hunters/gatherers who lived in the pre-ceramic stone age, pre agricultural period and lived on fish and shell fish.
The district, Ortoire, where the fossils, artefacts and skeletal remains were found has given its name to the epoch – Ortoiroid – which defines a stage of human civilisation shared by the entire Caribbean. The Ortoiroid are considered the first settlers of the islands stretching into Puerto Rico. It lends considerable support to some of the oldest evidence of humans in the Caribbean represented by the Casirimoid culture in Cuba and Hispaniola which is based only on findings of artefacts and tools, not human fossil evidence as in the case of Banwari, and which relates to sites with more recent dating in Antigua, St Kitts and elsewhere.
The Banwari find also connects the history of modern day Trinidad to its prehistoric link with the South American continent.
There seems to be enormous significance of this and related still unexplored sites, such as the similar find in St John’s which neighbours Banwari, in piecing together the story of human civilisation, not just of Trinidad and Tobago, nor just the Caribbean, but of in fact the Americans and indeed the western world.
Despite several advances since the Banwari find in DNA technologies and the global human genome project for instance (which determined that the skeleton Lucy found in Africa was the ancestor of all humankind), there has sadly been very little further study on the Banwari fossils since they were found. Until recently, Banwari’s were the oldest known human fossils found in the region. There has also been very little further study of the Banwari site itself. It entered, in 2004, the World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites.
Because the data on which existing beliefs and theories of migration to the Americas and development of civilisation in this part of the world has been so thin, any new discoveries by further study of the Banwari finds can significantly enlighten and/or alter or current knowledge and understanding of human migration and settlement of not just Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean, but also, in fact, the Americas.
The 1978 finding of Kennewick Man in the USA and the subsequent research, cranial fossil examinations and DNA testing have helped to contribute to world knowledge and debate, while Trinidad and Tobago could have been leading this debate – and at least a decade earlier.
The Banwari civilisation in fact predates the Mayans by a few thousand years. It holds some important clues to the time when Trinidad was part of the South American continent. We were a gateway to and from South America and indeed the route through which much of the Caribbean was populated and this remains part of the proud history of the Caribbean displayed in museums across the Central to South American continent as well as through the island chain all the way to Puerto Rico
Banwari is also significant to Trinidad and Tobago’s picture of multiculturalism and diversity, as part of civilisations that include not just our ancient African and Indian and other Asian civilisations, but also the ancient civilisations of the Americas. The Banwari period of some 5000 BC in fact offers much for comparison with ancient Mesopotamia, or the old Indus Valley civilisations or the civilisations of Egypt and the Nile Valley.
Banwari was Trinidad and Tobago’s first known citizen. The internet names Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, soca artist Machel Montano, Olympic athletes Kelly Ann Baptist and Ian Morris and pioneer of the parang musical genre, Diasy Voisin as famous citizens of Siparia. It is also the cradle of Sopari Mai and the unique annual outpouring of multicultural religious fervour. The Banwari people also deserve to be on that list, and in fact, any new discoveries of worship patterns can add to Sopari Mai’s stature and open up a conversation on the connections between worship forms, as well as on other aspects of lifestyle and cultures of the old world with the ‘new’ (proven even that too a misnomer, of course).
If our universities and schools were doing their homework, the general population and the decision makers might be aware of this and Banwari would take its rightrul role in on our self understanding and our development path.
Caption: Hima Gurung, Dr Krs Rampersad, Archeologist Peter Harris and Chairman of the Siparia Regional Cororation Leo Doodnath at the Banwari Archeological Site in San Francique, Trinidad.
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