Hikers Discover Ancient Petroglyphs in Montserrat

The centuries-old petroglyphs date back to the island's earliest inhabitants.

A group of hikers on the Caribbean island of Montserrat discovered ancient petroglyphs along a local trail in January, researchers announced this month.

Shirley Osborne, the speaker of Montserrat's legislative assembly, discovered the petroglyphs while on a hike with friend Vaughn Barzey. The pair were hiking up Soldier Ghaut, a seasonally-flooded creek bed that runs from the beach through the forest.

"We noticed that one of the cliff faces was bare," Osborne said, explaining that a recent landslide had stripped the normally vine-laden rock to the side of the ghaut of its vegetation. The exposed rock was covered in carvings.

Osborne and Barzey had stumbled upon a collection of centuries-old petroglyphs from the age of the Arawak Indians, the earliest known inhabitants of Montserrat, according to Dr. Reginald Murphy, a professor of archeology in Antigua. Dr. Murphy was among the earliest groups of archeologists to visit the site.

“This is a very significant archeological find,” he said, noting that petroglyph discoveries are rare in the Caribbean. The discovery was the first of its kind in Montserrat.

For the past six months, a local preservation group called the Montserrat National Trust has led the archeological investigation. They kept the discovery under wraps until early June. Dr. Murphy expects it will take scholars years to develop a full interpretation of the petroglyphs.

A leading factor in the petroglyphs’ preservation seems to be their isolated location. Osborne said that she found them while hiking a less popular section of Soldier Ghaut, beyond the normal hiker’s turnaround point. Dr. Murphy added that the wet and craggy terrain made for a challenging hike.

“It is a quite small island, but its got some really interesting trails,” Osborne said. The northern districts of Montserrat are covered in routes similar to Soldier Ghaut, and are common holiday getaways for the island's 5,000 residents. Montserrat's southern half was largely destroyed by a devastating volcanic eruption in 1995.