The dense forests that once covered the Virgin Islands provided a sheltered environment and food for our earliest inhabitants some 3,000 years ago. These prehistoric people are believed to have originated in South America, gradually travelling up the island chain with their animals and foods.
In the Virgin Islands, Amerindians grew cassava, spun cotton, fired pottery and carved ceremonial shell objects. On the island of Anegada, they formed mounds of shells, the refuse of their seafood diet. On Virgin Gorda, they incised their pottery with designs and shaped ceremonial stone tools with human faces. They are said to have mined copper there as well.
On the island of Tortola, archaeologists have recorded 33 sites used by prehistoric people as either permanent settlements or campsites. Belmont palm grove, one of five major settlements, has been the subject of substantial archaeological research for over ten years, giving an insight into the life and chronology of a Virgin Islands Amerindian settlement.
Stone hearths, tools, pottery, and ceremonial artifacts have provided evidence of former inhabitants; from the original fisher-forager settlement (600-1000BC); to more permanent village with round houses (around AD 800); to a ritual centre of regional significance (about AD 1200), with ceremonial ball and dance courts, edged in upright stones, pictured above.
Archaeological and historical evidence does not indicate when Amerindian habitation ended in the Virgin Islands, but by the 17th century, when Europeans began to settle the Virgin Islands, the area was uninhabited.