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Home » Earliest human occupation of Curaçao pushed back 850 years

Earliest human occupation of Curaçao pushed back 850 years

A groundbreaking collaboration between Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the National Archaeological Anthropological Memory Management (NAAM Foundation) in Curaçao has extended our understanding of the earliest human settlements in the Caribbean, shedding new light on pre-Colombian history in the region.

Since 2018, an international team of researchers has been engaged in the Curaçao Cultural Landscape Project, aiming to unravel the island's long-term biodiversity changes and their relationship to human activity.

Findings published in The Journal of Coastal and Island Archaeology reveal that human occupation of Curaçao dates as far back as 5735–5600 BCE—up to 850 years earlier than previously believed. This groundbreaking discovery was made possible through of charcoal collected from an Archaic period site at Saliña Sint Marie, now recognized as the island's oldest known , using accelerated spectrometry.

Christina Giovas, associate professor in SFU's Department of Archaeology and co-lead on the study, explains the significance of these findings: “This new information suggests that the initial of this region occurred earlier than previously thought, potentially coinciding with the settlement of other islands to the north of Curaçao. It hints at the possibility that the movement of people from the continental mainland may have intertwined with the colonization of Curaçao.”

While further research is needed to confirm this , Giovas emphasizes that this discovery provides a crucial baseline for studying human-environment interactions in the Caribbean.

NAAM Deputy Director Claudia Kraan, who also led the study, underscores the importance of ongoing research in uncovering new insights into Curaçao's inhabitants. She highlights that “archaeological knowledge is constantly evolving through continued exploration and analysis.”

The project's inaugural field season in 2022 saw SFU archaeology undergraduate students participating in a five-week international field school in Curaçao. Through surveying, mapping, and excavation activities, students gained practical experience while contributing to the project's goals. Their findings were shared with the local community, fostering engagement and awareness of the island's rich archaeological .

Collaborating closely with local volunteers and the NAAM Foundation, an NGO dedicated to managing Curaçao's archaeological heritage, the project aims to increase local capacity for archaeology and promote knowledge mobilization.

Giovas emphasizes the importance of hands-on learning in archaeology, noting its relevance to modern-day efforts and environmental awareness. She believes that involving students in such initiatives facilitates generational shifts in the discipline's .

Looking ahead, the team plans to return to Curaçao in 2025 for another field season, delving deeper into the island's transformative and its implications for conservation efforts. Partnerships with institutions such as SFU, the NAAM Foundation, the Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology, the University of Queensland, and InTerris Registries underscore the collaborative nature of this groundbreaking research endeavor.