Kelbey’s Ridge is a Ceramic Age (AD 400-1450) site on the North-eastern side of the island Saba. Its location is a strategic one. Because Kelbey’s Ridge is high up a volcanic dome, it provides a good view of the surrounding sea and islands. In addition, plenty of food could be found in the immediate vicinity of the site. For example, the occupants of the site had access to the rainforest and the fruits and animals that could be found there. Due to the site’s proximity to the sea, occupants could also benefit from Saba’s rich fishing grounds.
Kelbey’s Ridge was first found in 1986 by Mr. Walter Gehrtz. In the context of the construction of a private house, a team from Leiden University has conducted rescue excavations of the site by means of a field survey in 1988 and excavations between 1988 and 1991. Kelbey’s Ridge consists of two artefact clusters; Kelbey’s Ridge 1, pertaining to a Saladoid occupation and Kelbey’s Ridge 2, to a Chicoid one. Most artefacts from Kelbey’s Ridge 1 were shells and pottery shards, but also a zemi, faunal remains, and several stone tools were found. The site has been dated between 400 and 600 AD.
Kelbey’s Ridge 2 was a settlement that was inhabited by four or five households between 1300 and AD 1350. At this site, archaeologists found both Indigenous artefacts as well as colonial-era objects.
The settlement at Kelbey’s Ridge 2 was, as the name suggests, located on a ridge. For that reason, it was linear in shape. The total length of the settlement was about 70 meters. The houses had diameters of 5 to 8 meters and were round or oval. To read more about the construction of Indigenous houses, click here.
Several human burials were found inside the floorplan of the houses. The deceased ancestorswere buried in a flexed position, in small graves beneath the floors of the houses. The burial ritual appears to be quite complex and likely consisted of multiple stages. In some cases, long bones or skulls were removed from the grave. It is likely that this was part of a ritual to honour the ancestors.
Because of its sharp relief, Saba was not easily accessible and therefore not densely populated. This is why Saba’s inhabitants depended on a regional network in times of harshness, and for the exchange of marriage partners, social bonding and for allies in times of war. There are two main reasons why chiefs from the Greater Antilles would have found it beneficial to include Saba in their networks. The first reason is that the so-called Saba Bank (see the map below) was very rich in fish. Second, Saba lies on the route towards the South American mainland and is therefore an obvious link in social networks.
Map showing the Saba Bank (photo: Hofman & Hoogland 2016).
Photo top: view of the area at Kelbey’s Ridge where the 1988-1992 excavations took place (Hofman & Hoogland 2016).
Text by Laura van de Pol, based on original published research (see further reading).
Hofman, C.L. & M.L.P. Hoogland, 2016. Saba’s first inhabitants; A story of 3300 years of Amerindian occupation prior to European contact (1800 BC- AD 1492). Sidestone Press, Leiden.
Hoogland, M., & C. Hofman, 1993. Kelbey’s Ridge 2, A 14th Century Taino settlement on Saba, Netherlands Antilles. Analecta Praehistorica Leidensia, 26, 163–181.
Mol, A.A., M.L.P. Hoogland & C.L. Hofman, 2015. Remotely Local: Ego-networks of Late Pre-colonial (AD 1000-1450) Saba, North-eastern Caribbean. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 22(1), 275-305.