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Rock Art of St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Date of Submission: 18/06/2012
Criteria: (iii)(v)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Trust
State, Province or Region:
Caribbean Region, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Ref.: 5749

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Name of site



The 13 Stones

13˚17 ̒29˝N

61˚14 ̒52˝W

Petit Bordel

13˚16 ̒51˝N

61˚14 ̒56˝W


13˚14 ̒07˝N

61˚16 ̒31˝W

Mount Wynne

13˚13 ̒08˝N

61˚16 ̒39˝W


13˚11 ̒20˝N

61˚16 ̒00˝W

Sharpes Stream

13˚09 ̒49˝N

61˚13 ̒24˝W

Indian Bay

13˚08 ̒02˝N

61˚12 ̒29˝W

Yambou 1

13˚09 ̒15˝N

61˚08 ̒58˝W


13˚14 ̒32˝N

61˚07 ̒55˝W

The country has some 18 recordedrock art sites distributed mainly in river valleys near the coast. One site is on a south coast peninsula and one in a rock shelter. Two sites are in the Grenadines. The rock art of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is in the form of petroglyphs engraved or rubbed on isolated boulders and exposed rock faces largely composed of andesite.

What is most remarkable about Vincentian rock art sites is that they embody features characteristic of Antillean Petroglyphs on the one hand whilst also having shapes typical of mainland South America on the other. Notwithstanding St. Vincent rock art depicts many features common to both parts of the Caribbean and indeed rock art sites throughout the world. These features include many small, simple, anthropomorphic faces together with cup holes, polissoirs and patterns of geometric grooves.

Larger more complex faces start to show regional, stylistic characteristics to be found in the Caribbean area. Elements of dress and body decoration may be evident. Some images the Vincentian rocks have are common in the islands of the Antilles but are not present in mainland South America. Such characteristics include double ears, ears joined to eyes and head-foot people. This supports the idea that the art form has diversified since migration to the islands.

The complex rayed heads found in St. Vincent however are otherwise only found in South America. St. Vincent then forms an important link between the islands further north and the lands of the Guianas and Orinoco in the South. Spirals are the most common South American figure. They do not occur as individual motifs in the islands except for St. Vincent. The sheer size of some of the St Vincent engraved panels reflects the massive dioramas of South America.

Smaller sub regional groupings can also be discerned. Features like faces on ropes are shared only between St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines rock art shows some distinctive singularities. The main engraving at Layou is the largest petroglyph in the Lesser Antilles. It bears strong similarities to the zemi carvings of Yocahu, the supreme being of Taíno culture and this may be evidence that the petroglyph was created by people of Saladoid culture which evolved in Taíno further north.

Another site which is unique in the Caribbean is Buccament. Here the main panel is engraved across the back wall of a rock shelter. It consists of two sets of abstract motifs forming rows some eight metres long. One set is much deeper than the other and appears to be superimposed on the shallower set. These script-like linear patterns include circles, spirals, dots and loops. It has been suggested that it could be an attempt at a prototype written language but further research is required here.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The rock art of the Caribbean provides evidence of the life ways of people who migrated into the Caribbean in prehistoric times. The Caribbean reflects an end point of a migration of human kind across the globe; a migration which began when the first hominids left Africa. The people who reached South America had undertaken the longest journey in prehistory and it had taken them almost 2 million years. They came via Asia crossing over the Bering land bridge and south through North and Central America. Finally, in 3000BC they stepped into their pirogues and paddled north again to the Antilles, reaching St. Vincent and beyond in waves of settlement over the next 5000 years. On arrival in St. Vincent the Amerindians came face to face with environmental threats such as hurricanes and volcanoes previously unencountered. The petroglyphs, it has been suggested, may have been an adaptive response to these challenges.

The pre-Columbian peoples were able to transcend barriers, united by a common sea. As such they represent role models for present and future generations who live within artificial national borders. The commonalities the rock art of SVG shares with mainland and insular Caribbean territories demonstrates a unity and freedom of movement to be emulated.

Amerindian horticulturalists were responsible for the introduction of a variety of animals, medicinal herbs and crops into the Antilles. Some of these have become staple food items in the modern world. Zoomorphic images on the rocks provide evidence of some of the fauna present at the time they were created.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a large number of related archaeological sites. Some 160 recorded ceramic sites coexist with rock art sites in an area of 389 km². Rock art may provide a key to interpreting symbolism on ceramic art from these sites. The number of Amerindian place names, including those of several rock art sites, which have remained in use to the present day is exceptionally high in St. Vincent and provides an unbroken link with the current population.

Criterion (iii) It would be difficult to find a better example anywhere in the world. The rock art of St. Vincent and the Grenadines shows representations of ceremonies and rituals revealing community lifestyles of the Amerindian people. The engravings may provide a key to unlocking evidence of social, economic and spiritual dimensions of Amerindian societies in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the future.

Criterion (v) Rock art bears testimony to ancestral migrations bringing graphic forms across the Caribbean to and from new settlement sites in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The natural surroundings in which some of the rock art has been created suggest adaptation to new environmental threats including volcanic eruptions of La Soufrière.

Criterion (vi) Certain elements of Vincentian rock art manifestations are recognizable not only in folklore handed down to present generations but also in the traditional practices of the Garifuna culture today. Research indicates that related ceramics can date rock art and that the Vincentian sites were created right up to colonial times thus bearing testimony to the remarkable success of native resistance to colonialism for several hundred years longer than elsewhere in the insular Caribbean, (Dominica similarly showed such resistance).

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The rock art has traditionally been known to the local community by names linking it to the Amerindians, some of whom survived and still live in the country. The name ‘Carib Stones’ remains in common usage today. Documentary evidence indicates the carved rocks were previously referred to as ‘jumbie rocks’, ‘sacrificial stones’ or ‘altars’. The concept of these sites being sacred places is clear. Documentation by travelers, journalists, vocational and professional archaeologists exists dating back over 130 years, (see appendix 3 – St. Vincent and the Grenadines Preparatory International Assistance Workshop report). The style of the engravings bears similarities with other rock art assemblages in the Caribbean region. Associated evidence can be found at nearby prehistoric habitation sites.

The Kalinago peoples of St. Vincent and the Grenadines successfully defended their land from the invading Europeans until the end of the second Carib war in 1797. This meant that the land use changes which accompanied the development of large-scale plantation agriculture occurred relatively late. Changes in vegetation cover at this time would have altered the setting of some pieces of rock art. The second major change of land use in the Caribbean took place largely in post-colonial times as modern housing, service industries and infrastructural changes took place. In St. Vincent these changes are only just taking off. It is in this way that most of the petroglyphs remain largely undisturbed in their semi natural settings.

Until recently protection and management of rock art has been largely informal with small community networks reporting on and taking pride in the ‘Carib stones’. Moves to formally protect the rock art began with the National Trust Amendment Act no. 37 of 2007.This empowered the Trust to confer Protected National Heritage status. To date the Layou petroglyphs are so protected and the others will follow. The Layou petroglyphs are now in a heritage park managed by the National Parks Authority working with the SVG National Trust and a local community group. The need for a buffer zone has been observed but not yet set up. The rock art of St. Vincent and the Grenadines compare with other similar sites outside the Caribbean which are already on the World Heritage List.

Comparison with other similar properties

Rock Art sites are very much underrepresented on the World Heritage List, making up only 3% of the total number of sites included. Globally this amounts to 31 rock art sites listed. (Rock Art Sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List - ICOMOS September 2009) A further 2 were added in 2011.  Of these just 14 are petroglyph sites. They were put forward by State Parties in Africa, Europe and Asia. No petroglyph sites have been listed from Latin America and the Caribbean not withstanding their outstanding presence in most of the countries there.

The heritage of the Amerindian people, who lived for 5000 years in the insular Caribbean, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guyana and Surinam (UNESCO World Heritage Papers no.24, p.136), has not been recognized by a UNESCO World Heritage listing, yet there have been 12 successful nominations of sites created by European colonialists of this region, who first arrived a mere 500 years ago.

The petroglyphs of St. Vincent and the Grenadines differ from those of other sites listed as World Heritage in as much as

  • They are manifestations allowing insight into the cosmological perspectives and belief systems of the Amerindian cultural identity.
  • They were created in a small island environment to which multiple waves of visitors and migrants were adapting, rather than on a large continental land mass.
  • Along with the petroglyphs of the other volcanic Caribbean Islands, they are carved on basaltic rocks which are hard and very well consolidated and therefore require particularly well developed skills to work.
  • The same rock quality has allowed the images to be particularly well preserved allowing for a broader analysis of the tangible and intangible interactions of Amerindian people with their environment.