Perforated tapir incisor from the site La Poterie in Grenada, Lesser Antilles. (photo: Catarina Guzzo Falci in Hofman et al. 2020)
This perforated tapir incisor was found at the site La Poterie, which is located on the northeast coast of Grenada. It is perforated by using a drill and attached to a string. According to wear signs observed on the perforation, the tooth was sawn using a thick string. Isotope analysis on the tooth revealed that it must have been transported in Grenada from the mainland South America.
Animal tooth pendants are culturally modified teeth of animals, used for body ornamentation. Bodily ornaments were associated with symbolic or religious systems and with community and personal identity. The type of pendants made from exotic animal teeth circulated in the Caribbean region from the Early Ceramic Period until early colonial times. Use-wear analysis, a technique that studies signs of decay to indicate patterns of use in various artifacts, was conducted on the tooth. The analysis revealed that the perforations were widened, due to constant use, and that the attachment to the string was loose.
Isotopic analysis has been used in archaeology to trace geographic origins. Isotopes are variants of chemical elements, such as strontium and oxygen. Isotope research of the tooth has revealed that it is not local to the island and was transported from another place. Pendants from animal teeth that are non-local to the Caribbean are a rare find and that is why further research was necessary to provide answers about the tooth’s origin. Isotope analysis was conducted on the tooth and according to the results, the tooth could have been transported from the north-eastern South America or from parts of western Venezuela.
Tapir incisor (photo: Catarina Guzzo Falci in Hofman et al. 2020)
Text by Eleni Seferidou, reviewed by Jason Laffoon, based on original published research (see further research).
Hofman, C.L., L.S. Borck, Laffoon, J.E., E.R. Slayton, Scott, R.B., T.W. Breukel, Falci, G.C., M. Favre and Hoogland, M.L.P., 2020. Island networks: Transformations of inter-community social relationships in the Lesser Antilles at the advent of European colonialism. The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, ahead-of-print, 1-27.
Laffoon, J.E., R. R. Ramos, Baik, L.C., Y. N. Storde, Lopez, M.R., G.R. Davies, Hofman C.L., 2014. Long-distance exchange in the precolonial Circum-Caribbean: A multi-isotope study of animal tooth pendants from Puerto Rico. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 35(1), 220–233.