Record Details

Steadman, David W;Stokes, Anne V
Changing exploitation of terrestrial vertebrates during the past 3000 years on Tobago, West Indies
Human Ecology
Journal Article
Iguana iguana
On the southern Caribbean island of Tobago, we excavated two archaeological deposits, the preceramic (ca. 2900 years old) Milford 1 site (TOB-3) and the ceramic (ca. 1200 to 900 years old) Golden Grove site (TOB-13). The non-fish bone assemblages from these sites are very different, with an emphasis at TOB-3 on sea turtles (which seldom nest today on Tobago) and the collared peccary Tayassu tajacu, a large (17-30 kg) mammal extremely rare now on Tobago. TOB-3 also yielded bones of two somewhat smaller mammals that are extinct on Tobago, the red howler monkey Alouatta seniculus and paca Agouti paca. The non-fish species at TOB-3 comprise only four reptiles and seven mammals, whereas they are more diverse (29 species) at TOB-13 and mostly represent small- to medium-sized vertebrates (<10 kg, often <1 kg), such as a toad, lizards, snakes, birds, opossum, armadillo, and eight species of rodents, as well as sea turtle and peccary, although the latter is uncommon. We interpret these differences as possibly being due to a local or island-wide scarcity of big game (peccaries) in ceramic times, which would have promoted diversification of hunting practices. Related to this may have been a more sedentary way of life for Tobago's ceramic peoples, with increased agriculture leading to more hunting near the site and less time being devoted to longer distance big-game hunting. While prehistoric anthropogenic extinction or population reduction of vertebrates is well documented on Caribbean islands to the north, our data from Tobago show that such depletions probably occurred as well on continental, land-bridge islands with more diverse faunas. Models of post-Pleistocene faunal "relaxation" toward a lower value for species richness should not ignore human-caused losses, which may be impossible to distinguish from non-anthropogenic losses.