THE EARLY AMERINDIAN SETTLEMENTS
It is generally believed that Guyana's first inhabitants, the Amerindians, originally entered the territory of what is now known as Guyana about 11,000 years ago. Initially they lived on the low, swampy coastland region.
Much of the coastal plain was built up by alluvial deposits from the rising Atlantic Ocean during the period ranging from 17,000 to 6,000 years ago. Large rivers which were formed also brought huge deposits of silt from the conti-nental interior and dumped them into the ocean. These silt deposits formed part of the alluvium which helped to create the coastal plain. There were periods when the rising waters stabilised allowing mangrove forests to develop. As the waters rose at a later time, these forests were destroyed and were covered over with silt on which new forests grew during different periods. As the coastland built up, the sea retreated but left behind a series of parallel sand and shell beaches, now known as sand reefs, up to about 10 miles inland.
West of the Essequibo River, large pegasse (or peat) swamps were formed. Archaeological surveys in the region have unearthed evidence to show that the first people of Guyana formed settlements around some of these large pegasse swamps.
Research by the Guyanese anthropologist, Dennis Williams, shows that while the earliest Guyanese were hunters, about 7000 years ago they gradu-ated to become hunter-gatherers. Some of these hunter-gatherers used a variety of plants to produce oils, fibres and dyes. These activities were the early horticultural experiments of the early inhabitants. Archaeological studies reveal that a group of these people occupied Barabina Hill near to Mabaruma around that period.
In the North-West District and the Pomeroon where they were firmly established as fish, turtle, snail and crab catchers, their settlements were more per-manent, but in the interior areas they moved their campsites from time to time. Some of these settlements were in the Mazaruni basin, the Pakaraima highlands, the Rupununi and the Berbice River.
The tools of the hunter-gatherers included bedrock grinding surfaces which were used to make polished stone tools, bark beaters of chipped stone (used for extracting bark cloth), projectile points, chisels, axes, and adzes. These tools, no doubt, helped in creating the dug out canoe. Chipped quartz produced small tools such as scrapers and gouges. Bone was used for making awls, fish hooks and personal ornaments. Basketry skills were also developed and were used in the manufacture of fish traps and food containers.
The subsistence systems varied from region to region. In the south-west Rupununi, the hunter-gatherers were fishermen, while in the New River area they were collectors. However, their livelihood was affected by seasonal short-ages of the particular food resource.
Dennis Williams' studies reveal that in the North West District and Pomeroon, the diet of the early Amerindians consisted of fish, turtles, crabs, snails, a variety of wild animals, larvae of beetles that deposited their eggs in the eetay palm, wild cashew, eetay palm flour, and wild honey. Those who later lived in the savannahs hunted water-fowl, fish, turtle, cayman, deer, sloth and monkey. Many of these animals were trapped in isolated pools af-ter the rainy season. The eetay palm which also flourished in the savannahs pro-vided a type of flour. In the rain forest area, Amerindians lived on fish and wild animals; while near to the Brazil border wild nuts formed part of the diet.