Guadeloupe’s Ancient Rock Art

an old drawing of an Arawak woman in Guadeloupe

An Arawak woman in traditional attire, by P.J. Benoît (Geheugen van Nederland) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s not much left to show that the Arawaks ever lived on Guadeloupe. And it’s not completely clear what happened to them. One story is that they were all wiped out by the Caribs, who arrived in the 15th century. Another is that they coexisted with the Caribs, but not for long, since Columbus arrived on his second voyage in 1493. Then, like indigenous people everywhere in North and South America when the Europeans arrived, both Caribs and Arawaks were decimated by disease. The Arawaks are gone, in any case, and the few surviving Caribs were eventually moved to nearby Dominica.

Since they would have lived in wooden structures, there are very few artifacts of this indigenous group. However, near Trois-Rivières, they left a series of rock carvings, which are now protected in Le parc archéologique des Roches Gravées, the Carved Rocks Archeological Park.

When I say “protected,” though, I just mean the land the rocks stand on is protected. The rocks themselves are exposed to the elements, as they have been for centuries, and they’re terribly worn, so there’s really not much to see.

Rock carvings in Guadeloupe: barely visible.

As you see, the carvings are terribly worn from centuries of exposure to the elements.

In other words, there’s not much archeology to see in the Le parc archéologique des Roches Gravées. And I saw even less, because part of the park was closed for renovation when I visited, which, on the positive side, meant that admission was free. I hope that when they say “renovation” it means they’ll do something to prevent further deterioration of the carvings.

The carvings represent people, always with a simple hole for mouth and eyes. Some show the whole body; others just from the chest up.

a clearer rock carving in Guadeloupe

This is the clearest carving we saw.

Visitors are not allowed to stroll around the park, however; a tour is required. Our guide was a young, enthusiastic man named Nicholas. He assured us, repeatedly, that the carvings are far more visible at 11:00 than when we were visiting: our tour started at 1:00.

Nicholas more than compensated for the limited archeology by emphasizing the other side of the park: it’s also a garden containing both indigenous plants and imports (Everywhere seemed to double as a garden in Guadeloupe!). He would scamper away from the path, climb rocks and pull a fruit off a tree, offering tastes to the group. I was surprised that the white substance inside a cacao pod, for example, is quite sweet and tastes a bit like melon, not chocolate. (Later, at the chocolate museum, I learned that chocolate isn’t made from the white part; it’s made from the hard cacao beans inside.)

close-up of an open cacao pod

tasting a cacao pod

Nicholas plucked a bit of grass by the side of the path and crushed it, releasing the smell of citronella. He scraped some bark off a tree with a rock and gave us bits to smell: cinnamon. He pointed out a calabash and several other fruits and seeds that I didn’t recognize (Annatto, jack fruit and castor, among others) and explained how they were used. For each one, he increased the entertainment value by having us guess first what it was.

He also told us a little of what is known of the Arawak, which isn’t much. There are theories, apparently, about the meanings of the different carvings, which are believed to have been related to religion. He showed us a large rock with basins carved in it. After having us guess first, he explained that the Arawak polished their stone tools there. The movement, using water and sand and rubbing the rock to polish it, dug out the basins over time.

rock where the Arawak of Guadeloupe polished stones

rock where the Arawak polished stones

Your visit won’t take more than an hour, and the price was normally two euros, though that could always go up after the renovations.

Also, if you go there, ask at the reception about the walk along the coast nearby.

view of the path along the coast in Trois-Rivieres, Guadeloupe

the path along the coast

I only did a small piece of it, but it’s a beautiful, wild, rocky shoreline there, which you can enjoy entirely alone.

a view of the coast near Trois-Rivieres, Guadeloupe

a view of the coast near Trois-Rivieres

 If you decide to visit this park, don’t do it like I did. Instead, pack a picnic, including plenty to drink. Take the 11:00 tour, then spend the rest of the day exploring that shoreline path. Whenever you stop for a rest, you’ll have breathtaking scenery to enjoy while you eat and drink.

If you’re interested in reading more about Guadeloupe, here is a list of all my posts from there:


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