Stone exotics in The Bahamas archipelago


Two celts collected from Andros Island in 1905. Benjamin Arnold collection, Peabody Museum of Natural History, ANT. 137366 (bottom; H: 81mm), ANT. 137367 (top; H: 54mm)


The artefacts undergoing study extend across a variety of categories, from cemís (representations of spirits, ancestors or mythic beings), mauls and monolithic axes to celts. The simplicity of some of the objects belies their inherent value and importance, masking to some degree the complexity of their production, use and meaning. Some artefacts – such as the effigy celts and monolithic axes – remain enigmatic, and have had no systematic study. All are carefully made, the material selected for its aesthetic qualities. Jadeite and other greenstone artefacts appear to have had a deep significance in the circum-Caribbean region, with elaborate ornaments circulated over vast distances, as well as placed in burials and ritual deposits.

Stone imports to The Bahamas/TCI offer clear evidence for exchange – and quite likely concomitant socio-political ties – with communities on the large islands of Cuba and Hispaniola to the south, if not beyond. Over the last decade there has been an explosion of research interest in the movement of materials, people and animals within and beyond the Caribbean, though The Bahamas/TCI have remained largely peripheral to the emerging picture of dynamic networks. The archipelago is, however, an excellent focus area for this type of research: unlike the geologically diverse islands dominating the rest of the Caribbean, The Bahamas/TCI islands are entirely limestone – a fact that readily identifies any hard stones as imports.



Over a hundred diorite beads recovered from a site near Stella Maris, Long Island. Diorite is a course-grained rock found in several parts of the Greater Antilles. Bead size ranges from a diameter of ca. 7-13.5mm. Courtesy Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation collections.