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Late-Holocene faunal and landscape change in the Bahamas

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  • The Mammoth Site

Abstract and Figures

We report an intertidal, bone-rich peat deposit on the windward (Atlantic Ocean) coast of Abaco, The Bahamas. The age of the Gilpin Point peat (c. 950-900 cal. yr BP) is based on five overlapping radiocarbon dates (one each from single pieces of wood of buttonwood Conocarpus erectus and sabal palm Sabal palmetto, and single bones of the Cuban crocodile Crocodylus rhombifer, Albury's tortoise Chelonoidis alburyorum, and green turtle Chelonia mydas). The short time interval represented by the charcoal-rich peat suggests rapid sedimentation following initial anthropogenic fires on Abaco. The site's diverse snail assemblage is dominated by terrestrial and freshwater species. The peat is exposed today only during exceptionally low tides, suggesting a lower sea level at the time of deposition as well as a degrading shoreline during the past millennium. Fossils from Gilpin Point represent a late-Holocene vertebrate community at the time of first human presence; only 10 of the 17 identified species of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals still live on Abaco. Numerous unhealed bite marks on the inside of the thick carapaces of the green turtle attest to consumption by Cuban crocodiles, which probably scavenged turtles butchered by humans. This concept, along with the dense concentration of bones in the peat, and charring on some bones of the green turtle and Abaco tortoise, suggests a cultural origin of the bone deposit at Gilpin Point, where the only Amerindian artifact recovered thus far is a shell bead.
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The Holocene
2014, Vol. 24(2) 220 –230
© The Author(s) 2014
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DOI: 10.1177/0959683613516819
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Introduction
The late-Quaternary record of vertebrates on West Indian islands
originates mainly from two very different sources of sediment.
The first (and often richest) source occurs in karst features (dry or
flooded limestone caves, rockshelters, and sinkholes) that accu-
mulate bones most often through non-cultural means such as
natural trap activity or predator roosts (e.g. Pregill, 1981; Pregill
et al., 1994; Steadman et al., 2007). The second source is from
open cultural (archaeological) sites where bones were deposited
by prehistoric peoples (e.g. Jones O’Day, 2002; Steadman et al.,
1984). In this article, we describe an unusual sedimentary setting
for the deposition of ancient bones on a West Indian island,
namely, a coastal peat deposit discovered on Great Abaco Island
in the northern Bahamas. This peat has yielded an intriguing set of
molluskan and vertebrate fossils that was deposited rapidly when
humans first arrived in the northern Bahamas.
Site setting
The Bahamas consists of oceanic islands that lie just off the eastern
coast of Florida (Figure 1). The archipelago features 23 major
islands and many smaller ones lying on shallow carbonate banks
separated by deep water. All exposed bedrock in this tectonically
stable archipelago are Quaternary eolianitic subtidal limestone
(Hearty and Kaufman, 2000; Mylroie, 2008). The Bahamian Archi-
pelago stretches 980 km from c. 27°N and 79°W in the northwest to
c. 21°N and 71°W in the southeast and consists politically of the
independent Commonwealth of the Bahamas (or ‘The Bahamas’)
and the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Protectorate.
Our study focuses on Great Abaco Island (hereafter ‘Abaco’),
the second largest Bahamian island (1214 km2). Gilpin Point is an
area of irregular limestone outcrops and calcareous beach sand on
the windward (eastern, Atlantic Ocean) coast of southern Abaco
(26.10457°N, 77.177666°W, Datum WGS84; Figure 2). The Gil-
pin Point site was discovered by Sabrina Bethel and landowner
Perry Maillis on 8 and 10 May 2009, during a very low spring tide
associated with a full moon on 9 May 2009. The dark, peaty sedi-
ment at Gilpin Point is inundated today by the ocean under nor-
mal circumstances, as well as covered by calcareous sand. Access
to the sediment typically is possible only during very low tides
(spring tides) associated with certain new and full moons during
non-summer months (October–May). Even then, only the most
exceptional spring tides are low enough to expose the sediment
subaerially. PM also collected bones on 6 June 2009; 21, 22, 27,
and 30 November 2009; 5 December 2009; sporadically from 28
September to 2 December 2012; 30 March 2013; and 10 May
2013. During our group’s field work on 8 and 13 November 2012
Late-Holocene faunal and landscape
change in the Bahamas
David W Steadman,1 Nancy A Albury,2 Perry Maillis,3 Jim I Mead,4
John Slapcinsky,1 Kenneth L Krysko,1 Hayley M Singleton1
and Janet Franklin5
Abstract
We report an intertidal, bone-rich peat deposit on the windward (Atlantic Ocean) coast of Abaco, The Bahamas. The age of the Gilpin Point peat (c.
950–900 cal. yr BP) is based on five overlapping radiocarbon dates (one each from single pieces of wood of buttonwood Conocarpus erectus and sabal palm
Sabal palmetto, and single bones of the Cuban crocodile Crocodylus rhombifer, Albury’s tortoise Chelonoidis alburyorum, and green turtle Chelonia mydas).
The short time interval represented by the charcoal-rich peat suggests rapid sedimentation following initial anthropogenic fires on Abaco. The site’s
diverse snail assemblage is dominated by terrestrial and freshwater species. The peat is exposed today only during exceptionally low tides, suggesting a
lower sea level at the time of deposition as well as a degrading shoreline during the past millennium. Fossils from Gilpin Point represent a late-Holocene
vertebrate community at the time of first human presence; only 10 of the 17 identified species of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals still live on
Abaco. Numerous unhealed bite marks on the inside of the thick carapaces of the green turtle attest to consumption by Cuban crocodiles, which probably
scavenged turtles butchered by humans. This concept, along with the dense concentration of bones in the peat, and charring on some bones of the green
turtle and Abaco tortoise, suggests a cultural origin of the bone deposit at Gilpin Point, where the only Amerindian artifact recovered thus far is a shell bead.
Keywords
Bahamas, Holocene, landscape change, peat, snails, vertebrates
Received 30 September 2013; revised manuscript accepted 15 November 2013
1University of Florida, USA
2The National Museum of the Bahamas, The Bahamas
3Gilpin Point, The Bahamas
4East Tennessee State University, USA
5Arizona State University, USA
Corresponding author:
David W Steadman, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of
Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA.
Email: dws@flmnh.ufl.edu
516819HOL0010.1177/0959683613516819The HoloceneSteadman et al.
research-article2014
Research paper
Steadman et al. 221
(new moon on 13 November), the deposit remained under c. 10
cm of water even during the lowest spring tide. During another
round of group field work on 1 December 2012 (full moon on 28
November), the deposit was exposed subaerially for 30 min dur-
ing the lowest spring tide (Figure 3).
Aside from tidal cycles, another factor that limits access to
the peat deposit is sand transport. For example, during our visit
to Gilpin Point on 10 June 2013 (new moon on 8 June), the site
was covered by sand at least 1 m deep. Prevailing easterly winds
off the Atlantic Ocean tend to build up sand during the warm
months, as well as inhibit extremely low spring tides. During the
cooler months, when Abaco receives north winds from periodic
frontal systems, sand is more often removed from this section of
shoreline, thereby exposing the peat layer during extremely low
spring tides. The peat can be exposed and then completely cov-
ered by sand over a single tidal cycle.
Methods
Because the peat deposit faces the open ocean on a high-energy
coast, it would be prohibitively complicated and expensive to
build a break-wall to improve access to the site. Therefore, our
collection methods at Gilpin Point consisted of removing
blocks of the peat (working quickly because of the narrow time
interval of the lowest tidal level) with a square shovel (spade;
Figure 4). These blocks of sediment, each overlain and under-
lain by calcareous sand, measured from 14 to 20 cm wide, 10 to
16 cm long, and 10 to 22 cm deep (c. 1.5–6 L per sample). For
the three largest species of vertebrates recovered (Crocodylus
rhombifer, Chelonoidis alburyorum, Chelonia mydas), c. 60%
of the fossils were collected in situ because of being partially
exposed at the top of the peat. Fossils of the other, smaller spe-
cies were collected by screen-washing c. 0.2 m3 (200 L) of sedi-
ment. We processed c. 50% of this sediment in the field through
nested sieves of 12.5, 6.4, and 1.6 mm mesh; the remainder of
the sediment was processed in the laboratory through five
nested sieves of 12.5, 5.6, 3.35, 2.0, and 1.0 mm mesh. Snails
and small bones occurred throughout the vertical sequence of
sediment.
The fossils from Gilpin Point are housed in the scientific col-
lections of the National Museum of the Bahamas in Marsh Har-
bour, Abaco, under the care of NAA. Some of the fossils are
currently on loan to DWS at the Florida Museum of Natural His-
tory, University of Florida (UF). Identifications of the fossils are
based on direct comparisons with modern specimens of mollusks
and vertebrates in the UF collections. In ‘Results’ section, we pro-
vide the common, scientific, and family name for each species at
its first mention.
Figure 1. The Bahamian islands, showing the location of Abaco and other islands mentioned in the text.
Figure 2. Gilpin Point, Abaco, The Bahamas, showing the location
of the bone-bearing peat deposit.
222 The Holocene 24(2)
Results
Sediment description
The sediment at Gilpin Point is poorly stratified, variably silty,
and sandy peat (Table 1). The organic matter consists of charcoal
(pieces ranging in size from microscopic to 14 mm diameter),
unburned plant material, and bones. The peat deposit is 20–22 cm
thick. We found no vertical trends in any characteristics of the
peat. The peat deposit is much less organic and has considerably
fewer mollusks and bones in the two small outcrops to the north
of the main collection area, which is the largest and southernmost
black area in Figure 2. All five sediment samples are from the
main collection area; the two that are the least organic (samples 2
and 4) are from the northern margin of the main collection area.
We did not quantify the charcoal other than to point out that it
dominates the organic matter combusted to generate the loss on
ignition (LOI) data (Table 1).The charcoal occurred throughout
the deposit; we found no rich concentrations that would suggest a
cultural feature such as a hearth. The deposit contained no high-
energy overwash sediments of marine origin.
Chronology
Our age estimate for the peat deposit at Gilpin Point is based on five
radiocarbon (14C) dates from individual specimens of plants and
animals identified to species (Table 2). The four accelerator-mass
spectrometer (AMS) 14C dates consist of one on wood of the but-
tonwood Conocarpus erectus (Combretaceae) and three on purified
collagen from individual bones of the Cuban crocodile Crocodylus
rhombifer (Crocodylidae), the extinct Albury’s tortoise Chelonoi-
dis alburyorum (Testudinidae), and green turtle Chelonia mydas
(Cheloniidae). The single conventional 14C date is from a large
sample of wood of the sabal palm Sabal palmetto (Arecaceae). The
two 14C dates on wood overlap (at 2σ) at 920–900, 860–830, 810–
800 cal. yr BP, whereas the three 14C dates on bone overlap (at 2σ)
at 950–920 cal. yr BP. Both the buttonwood and palm were found
in an upright growth position (Figure 5), suggesting that they may
have continued to live after deposition of the bones. This mecha-
nism would explain the slightly younger age determinations for the
wood samples than the bone samples.
With a 14C age of 970–920 cal. yr BP, Beta-338510 is the
youngest direct age determination for the Cuban crocodile in the
Bahamas and therefore helps to pinpoint the time of its extirpation
on Abaco. The earliest 14C age previously determined directly on
a Cuban crocodile bone in the Bahamas was 2880–2750 cal. yr
BP (Beta-225508) from Sawmill Sink blue hole, Abaco (Stead-
man et al., 2007). (A blue hole is a flooded cave or sinkhole.)
Nevertheless, crocodile bite marks exist on an Albury’s tortoise
specimen from Sawmill Sink that has a 14C age of 970–920 cal. yr
BP (Beta-298219; Hastings et al., in press), which is identical to
our age determination for the crocodile from Gilpin Point. With a
14C age of 960–910 and 840–840 cal. yr BP (Beta-338511), the
Albury’s tortoise from Gilpin Point overlaps with the two young-
est previous age determinations for this species, namely, 970–920
cal. yr BP (Beta-298219; Sawmill Sink) and 920–780 cal. yr BP
(Beta-298220; Lost Reel Cave, Abaco; Hastings et al., in press).
The ‘marine reservoir effect’ reflects the fact that marine organ-
isms and ocean waters are depleted in 14C (i.e. contain ‘dead’ car-
bon) and therefore may yield 14C ages that are older than those
based on contemporary terrestrial organic materials (Goodwin,
1993). The precise range of the surface marine reservoir correction
for the Bahamas is not known, so we used an approximation of 350
years (from global estimates in Stuiver and Braziunas, 1993) to
correct the AMS 14C date for the green turtle.
Stable isotopes
The carbon stable isotope data (δ13C values) of the 14C-dated sam-
ples (Table 2) are reasonable for each species, given what is known
about their biology. Like most woody plants, the buttonwood and
sabal palm follow the C3 (Calvin) photosynthetic pathway; their
determined δ13C values (−28.0‰ and −28.4‰, respectively) are as
expected for C3 plants (average −28.5‰, with a typical range of
−37‰ to −20‰; Kohn, 2010; O’Leary, 1981, 1988).
The Cuban crocodile was a terrestrial carnivore in the Baha-
mas (Morgan and Albury, 2013; Steadman et al., 2007); the δ13C
value for crocodile from Gilpin Point (−19.8‰) falls within the
values reported elsewhere for modern and prehistoric terrestrial
Figure 3. Peat deposit exposed, 1 December 2012, Gilpin Point,
Abaco, The Bahamas. DWS and PM pictured.
Photo by JF.
Figure 4. DWS collecting blocks of peat with a square spade
during the lowest spring tide, 1 December 2012, Gilpin Point, Abaco,
The Bahamas.
Photo by JF.
Steadman et al. 223
carnivores (c. −21‰ to −17‰; Bocherens and Drucker, 2003;
Coltrain et al., 2004) and the values for Holocene Cuban croco-
dile fossils from other sites on Abaco (−20.9‰ to −16.4‰, N = 8;
Hastings et al., in press). The Abaco tortoise was a terrestrial her-
bivore believed to have consumed mainly C3 plants (Franz and
Franz, 2009; Steadman et al., 2007); the δ13C value for tortoise
from Gilpin Point (−21.6‰) falls within the values reported else-
where for modern and prehistoric terrestrial herbivores (c. −24‰
to −19‰; Bocherens and Drucker, 2003; Coltrain et al., 2004),
including Holocene tortoise fossils from elsewhere on Abaco
(−22.9‰ to −21.1‰, N = 5; Hastings et al., in press).
In the Greater Caribbean Region, the green turtle is a marine
herbivore as an adult, although juveniles can be omnivorous or
carnivorous (Bjorndal, 1997). Adult green turtles (females only)
come ashore only to nest on sandy beaches. The δ13C value for the
dated green turtle bone from Gilpin Point (−9.6‰) falls within the
values reported for modern specimens from Long Island, Baha-
mas (−12.2‰ to −6.4‰; Vander Zanden et al., 2013).
Plants
The peat at Gilpin Point contains abundant wood, often in
nearly vertical growth position, of buttonwood (C. erectus).
The tops of dead buttonwood branches were also exposed in
growth position on the sandy beach near the present shoreline
c. 25 m north of where the peat was excavated (Figure 5), sug-
gesting that the peat deposit extends at least this far northward.
Buttonwood has lower tolerance to soil salinity than other man-
groves (Medina, 1999; Rada et al., 1989). In the Bahamas, but-
tonwood typically is found inland from the three other species
of mangroves (black mangrove Avicennia germinans, Acantha-
ceae; white mangrove Laguncularia racemosa, Combretaceae;
red mangrove Rhizophora mangle, Rhizophoraceae) and is
associated with slightly brackish or freshwater wetlands
(Areces-Mallea et al., 1999).
The stump of the 14C-dated sabal palm (S. palmetto) also was
found in growth position. In the Bahamas, sabal palm tolerates
poorly drained soils and is associated with ephemeral freshwater
ponds and areas with subterranean freshwater lenses near the sur-
face (Areces-Mallea et al., 1999; Sullivan-Sealey et al., 2002).
Sabal palm is prone to mortality when coastal flooding from sea-
level rise exposes it to increasing salinity (DeSantis et al., 2007;
Perry and Williams, 1996). Such flooding may have killed the
individual that was 14C-dated, suggesting that this inundation took
place no later than c. 800 cal. yr BP.
Mollusks
The sediment at Gilpin Point contains abundant remains of small
gastropods as well as much rarer small bivalves. The molluscan
assemblage was analyzed by JDS and JIM in detail from a single
Figure 5. Black trunks of Conocarpus erectus in growth position in
water on left side, originating in peat deposit, 13 November 2012,
Gilpin Point, Abaco, The Bahamas.
Photo by KLK.
Table 1. Description of sediment samples from Gilpin Point. Fraction organic matter based on loss on ignition for 2 h at 550°C.
Sediment
sample no.
Sediment type Color Fraction organic
matter
Dry We t
1 Peaty, slightly silty, angular fine
calcareous sand
5YR 7/1; light gray 5YR 3/1; very dark gray 0.25
2 Slightly peaty, slightly sandy silt 5YR 8/1; white 7.5YR 6/2; pinkish gray 0.12
3Peaty, silty, angular fine calcareous sand 5YR 5/1; gray 5YR 3/1; very dark gray 0.22
4 Peaty, silty, angular fine to medium
calcareous sand
5YR 6/1; gray 5YR 4/1; dark gray 0.11
5 Very peaty, slightly silty, angular fine to
medium calcareous sand
5YR 3/1; very dark gray 7.5YR 2/0; black 0.30
Table 2. Radiocarbon (14C) chronology for the peat deposit at Gilpin Point, Abaco, Bahamas. All determinations (done at Beta Analytic, Inc.,
Miami, FL), except Beta-345519, are accelerator-mass spectrometer (AMS) dates. Calibration of radiocarbon ages to calendar dates follows the
IntCal9 database (Heaton et al., 2009; Reimer et al., 2009). For further details of laboratory and calibration methods, see www.radiocarbon.
com. The three 14C dates on bone are on ultrapurified collagen. For Beta-338512, the 14C age in brackets is uncorrected for the marine
reservoir effect; the 14C age without brackets considers an approximate marine surface reservoir correction of 350 years, following Figures 5A
and 15A in Stuiver and Braziunas (1993).
Material dated Sample weight (as
submitted; g)
Sample number δ13C (‰) Conventional age 14C age (cal. yr BP, 2σ)
Wood (Sabal palmetto) 50.8 Beta-345519 −28.0 990 ± 30 BP 960–900, 860–830, 810–800
Wood (Conocarpus erectus) 3.9 Beta-338518 −28.4 900 ± 30 BP 920–740
Bone (postorbital of Crocodylus rhombifer) 5.0 Beta-338510 −19.8 1020 ± 30 BP 970–920
Bone (left first costal of Chelonoidis alburyorum) 7.8 Beta-338511 −21.6 1010 ± 30 BP 960–910, 840–840
Bone (left first costal of Chelonia mydas) 15.6 Beta-338512 −9.6 1340 ± 30 BP [1300–1260, 1200–1190]
950–910, 850–840
224 The Holocene 24(2)
3-L sediment sample taken from the area of densest bone concen-
tration. Of 36 taxa recognized, 12 are terrestrial, 4 are freshwater,
1 is freshwater/estuarine, 2 are estuarine, 4 are estuarine/marine,
and 13 are marine (Table 3). The majority of the most commonly
occurring species are snails that require terrestrial or freshwater
habitats. We interpret this trend in habitat preference to mean that
the main sources of snails in the peat deposit originated inland
(washing in with the charcoal) or in situ (in the freshwater or
slightly brackish swamp).
The species of mollusks in Table 3 are minute and do not
include the large, edible, marine species (such as conchs, whelks,
and top shells) that often are abundant in Amerindian middens in
the Bahamas and southern coastal Florida (Jones O’Day, 2002;
Keegan et al., 2008; Marquardt, 2010a, 2010b). We note, how-
ever, that a single specimen of Queen conch (Strombus gigas,
Strombidae) and two of the West Indian top shell (Cittarium
pica, Tegulidae) were recovered in situ alongside bones of the
green turtle, only c. 2 m south of the snail sediment sample.
These three specimens, each recovered in a broken condition
typical of Amerindian middens (see Jones O’Day and Keegan,
2001), constitute the only mollusks from the Gilpin Point site
that are likely to have been consumed or used as tools by prehis-
toric peoples.
Vertebrates
We identified 20 species of vertebrates from the fossils at Gilpin
Point (Table 4). The five identifiable fish bones represent three
species, the bonefish Albula vulpes (Albulidae; 2 vertebrae), bar
jack Caranx ruber (Carangidae; palatine), and midnight parrot-
fish Scarus coelestinus (Scaridae; atlas, hypural). Each of these
edible estuarine or marine species occurs regularly in West Indian
archaeological contexts (Newsom and Wing, 2004).
Of the 17 species of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals
found in the Gilpin Point material, we first will document the
seven that no longer occur on Abaco. The Cuban crocodile Croco-
dylus rhombifer is represented by c. 60 cranial and post-cranial
bones (e.g. Figure 6) that depict two individuals (an adult and a
sub-adult). Albury’s tortoise Chelonoidis alburyorum is repre-
sented by c. 60 post-cranial bones that are dominated by pieces of
the carapace and plastron of a single adult individual with appar-
ently healed bite marks from the Cuban crocodile on the outside
of its carapace (Figure 6). Five post-cranial elements are referred
to the rock iguana Cyclura cf. carinata (Iguanidae), another rather
large, edible species (Carlson and Keegan, 2004; Keegan and
DeNiro, 1988).
The Gilpin Point material of Bermuda petrel Pterodroma
cahow (Procellariidae) consists of a nearly complete coracoid and
Table 3. Snails identified from a single sediment sample at Gilpin Point, Abaco, The Bahamas. B: bivalve; all others are gastropods. Macrohabitat
categories – E: estuarine; F: freshwater; M: marine; T: terrestrial.
Taxon Count Macrohabitat Microhabitat
Assimineidae 31 E, M Marine/brackish ponds and mangrove areas
Brachidontes exustus (B) 1 M Protected creeks, exposed shores, seagrass beds, under rocks
Ctenocardia guppyi (B) 2 M Sand bottoms, seagrass beds
Cenchritis muricatus 1 M Exposed rocky coasts on supratidal rock surfaces
Cerion sp. 1 T Leaf litter and on trees near the coast
Cerithidea costata 53 E Mangroves and pond edges, exposed on mud and sand
Cerithium lutosum 26 E, M Marine/brackish ponds, coves and mangrove areas on algae, coral,
rock, sand, and seagrass beds
Chione elevata (B) 1 M Muddy sand, seagrass beds
Crenella divaricata (B) 1 M Silty sand in high intertidal
Drepanotrema cimex 2 F Eutrophic ponds or slow-moving water on vegetation
Eoacmaea pustulata 1 M Under rocks or on seagrass
Ervilia concentrica 2 M Intertidal or shallow sand
Gastrocopta cf. pentodon 14 T Open grassy areas under leaf litter and stones
Gemma gemma (B) 3 E, M Sandy bottoms, brackish ponds and creeks
Hawaiia minuscula 13 T Leaf litter in open forests and grasses
Helicina rawsoni 4 T Forests on trees and in leaf litter
Hemitrochus varians 1 T Open forest on trees and in leaf litter
Littoridinops cf. tenuipes 366 E, F Fresh and brackish ponds
Echinolittorina cf. angustior 3 M Upper intertidal on exposed rocky coasts
Littoraria angulifera 1 M Supratidal on mangroves
Melampus bidentatus 5E, M Edge of brackish ponds and creeks at high tide mark
Melampus bullaoides 1E, M Under rocks at high tide line in protected creeks
Oleacinidae 6 T Unknown, presumed to be in leaf litter or under rocks in forests
Olivella sp. 3 M Buried in open sand or sand pockets
Physella sp. 1 98 F Eutrophic ponds or slow-moving water on vegetation
Physella sp. 2 159 F Eutrophic ponds or slow-moving water on vegetation
Planorbidae sp. 1 F Eutrophic ponds or slow-moving water on vegetation
Polinices lacteus 1 M Sand or sand pockets
Polygyra plana 22 T Open grassy areas, open forest
Strobilops hubbardi 35 T Leaf litter in moist forest
Succinea cf. ochracina 5 T Dry, open grassy areas
Timoclea pygmaea (B) 1 M Sand bottoms, seagrass beds
Transennella cubaniana (B) 3 M Sand bottoms
Varicella gracillima bahamensis 1 T Woodlands under leaf litter and rocks
Vertigo cf. ovata 2 T Wet woodlands and grasslands
Zonitoides arboreus 11 T Forests and forest edges under wood and in leaf litter
Steadman et al. 225
two fragmentary humeri. These specimens agree with skeletal
elements of P. cahow rather than those of the confamilial Audu-
bon’s Shearwater Puffinus lherminieri (extant in the Bahamas) in
these characters: larger overall size; medial surface of humeral
end of coracoid singly concave (doubly concave in P. lhermin-
ieri); in medial or lateral aspect, procoracoid less flared dorsally;
and humeral shaft less compressed (more circular in cross-sec-
tion). The length of the coracoid (23.06 mm) agrees with that of
fossils of P. cahow from Bermuda (22.5–23.7 mm, N = 15; Olson
and Hilgartner, 1982).
The two pedal phalanges of white ibis Eudocimus albus
(Threskiornithidae) from Gilpin Point represent nestlings or very
young fledglings of a species that no longer breeds in the Baha-
mas. Eight fossils (sternum, radius, two carpometacarpi, four
pedal phalanges) of the Cuban crow Corvus nasicus (Corvidae)
occur at Gilpin Point. They represent the first record of C. nasicus
from the Little Bahama Bank and the northernmost occurrence of
species today confined to Cuba and the Caicos Islands. Finally,
among the extirpated species, the Bahamian hutia Geocapromys
ingrahami (Capromyidae) is recorded from Gilpin Point by a
single molar. Common as a late-Quaternary fossil on many Baha-
mian islands (Morgan, 1989), G. ingrahami now survives only on
several very small islands (see ‘Discussion’ section).
In all, 10 species of terrestrial vertebrates found in the Gilpin
Point material certainly or probably still exist on Abaco. A single
humerus represents the Cuban tree frog Osteopilus septentriona-
lis (Hylidae). The green turtle C. mydas is the most commonly
occurring species of vertebrate in the deposit, represented by c. 80
bones of the carapace, plastron, and limbs from two very large
individuals. Because unhealed bite marks from a crocodile are
found on the inside (rather than outside) of the carapace of one
individual (Figure 7), we interpret the bite marks to represent
scavenging of a green turtle that people had butchered. Being so
large, adult green turtles likely were butchered near the beach pre-
historically and then shared among multiple households so that
the bones of a single individual might be deposited in more than
one midden (Newsom and Wing, 2004). With further exploration,
perhaps more remains of fish and shellfish will be found at Gilpin
Point.
A single caudal vertebra has the morphology of a gecko (Gek-
konidae) but is not diagnostic beyond family level. A single genus
of geckos (Sphaerodactylus) occurs on Abaco today (Schwartz
and Henderson, 1991). A complete tibia is referred to the curly
Table 4. Species of vertebrates identified from late-Holocene fossils at Gilpin Point, Abaco, Bahamas. ‘Status on Abaco’ categories – EA:
extirpated on Abaco, but still exists elsewhere; EG: extinct globally; SE: still exists on Abaco. ‘Habitat preference’ categories: E: estuarine; F:
freshwater; M: marine; T: terrestrial. Chelonia mydas and Pterodroma cahow are regarded as both marine and terrestrial because they most must
come ashore to nest. Numbers in brackets represent the minimum number of individuals represented by the fossils of the five most common
species. The species names for Leiocephalus, Cyclura, Chilabothrus, and Cubophis are based on the modern species that inhabit Abaco or nearby
islands; the fossils from Gilpin Point for these three genera are diagnostic to genus but not to species.
Scientific name Common name Status on Abaco Number of fossils Habitat preference
Fish
Albula vulpes Bonefish SE 2 E , M
Caranx ruber Bar jack SE 1 E, M
Scarus coelestinus Midnight parrotfish SE 2 M
Amphibians
Osteopilus septentrionalis Cuban tree frog SE 1 T
Reptiles
Crocodylus rhombifer Cuban crocodile EA ~60 [2] E, F, T
Chelonoidis alburyorum Albury’s tortoise EG ~60 [1] T
Chelonia mydas Green turtle SE ~80 [2] M , T
Gekkonidae sp. Unknown small gecko SE 1 T
Leiocephalus cf. carinatus Bahamian curly tailed lizard SE 1 T
Anolis cf. distichus Bahamian bark anole SE 1 T
Anolis cf. sagrei Cuban anole SE 3 T
Cyclura cf. carinatus Bahamian rock iguana EA 5 T
Chilabothrus cf. exsul Bahamian boa SE 2 T
Cubophis cf. vudii Bahamian racer SE 12 [1] T
Birds
Pterodroma cahow Bermuda Petrel EA 3 M, T
Eudocimus albus White ibis (juvenile) EA 2 E , F
Nyctanassa violacea Yellow-crowned night-Heron SE 1 E
Rallidae sp. Unknown small rail SE 1 E , F
Corvus nasicus Cuban crow EA 8 [2] T
Mammals
Geocapromys ingrahami Bahamian hutia EA 1 T
Figure 6. (a and b) Specimens of Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus
rhombifer) and (c) Albury’s tortoise (Chelonoidis alburyorum) from
Gilpin Point, Abaco, The Bahamas. (a) Lateral view of right maxilla
(NMB.AB62.12), (b) dorsal view of frontal and parietal (NMB.
AB62.11), and (c) dorsal view of nuchal and left peripheral 1 (NMB.
AB62.1).
Photo by NAA.
226 The Holocene 24(2)
tailed lizard Leiocephalus carinatus (Leiocephalidae). This fossil
tibia is 19.83 mm long, compared with 17.33 mm for the tibia of
an adult modern specimen of L. carinatus from Cuba with a
snout-vent length (SVL) of 98 mm and total length (TL) of 226
mm. Thus, the prehistoric curly tailed lizard from Gilpin Point
had a SVL of c. 112 mm and a TL of c. 259 mm.
Four specimens are identified as anoles (Anolis, Polychrot-
idae), which are diverse and widespread in the West Indies,
including the Bahamas (Henderson and Powell, 2009). One den-
tary and two maxillae of Anolis cf. sagrei are recorded from Gil-
pin Point by these characters: central cusp low, wide, and not
excessively higher than marginal cusps; dentary robust and wide.
This species exists in Abaco today. Another dentary is identified
as Anolis cf. distichus because the diagnostic sharply pointed cen-
tral cusp is distinctly higher than the well-pointed marginal cusps
(see Pregill, 1982). Buckner et al. (2012) questioned whether or
not A. distichus was historically introduced to Abaco; the Gilpin
Point dentary is evidence that A. distichus is indeed indigenous to
the island.
A single caudal vertebra and an edentulous fragment of den-
tary from a boa Chilabothrus cf. exsul (Boidae) are noticeably
larger than that in the trope (dwarf boa) Tropidophis (Tropidophi-
idae). A mid-trunk vertebra is needed for more precise identifica-
tion. The most commonly recovered small reptile from Gilpin
Point is the snake (Bahamian racer) Cubophis cf. vudii (Dipsadi-
dae; 12 specimens), identified by mid-trunk vertebrae with long,
thin neural spines, elliptical prezygapophyses, and a thin, straight
hemal keel with slight swelling and overhang at the condyle.
The yellow-crowned night-heron Nyctanassa violacea (Ardei-
dae) is a common resident species in the Bahamas, both today and
as a fossil (Steadman et al., 2007; White, 1998). Our identifica-
tion of a small rail (Rallidae sp.) is based on a fragmentary tibio-
tarsus of a size that may represent either the sora Porzana carolina
or Virginia rail Rallus limicola; the specimen lacks diagnostic
species-level characters. Both species presently occur in the
Bahamas as non-breeding birds in freshwater and estuarine
habitats.
Discussion
Landscape change
The setting and contents of the coastal peat deposit at Gilpin Point
demonstrate how dynamic the Bahamian physical landscape can
be over geologically short time frames. At both local and regional
(inter-island) scales, these low islands can be affected dramati-
cally by changes in sea level. The estimated sea level in the east-
ern Atlantic at 950 cal. yr BP (when humans arrived on Abaco)
was ~20 cm lower than at present but was rising in response to the
‘Medieval Warm Period’ (Curtis et al., 1996; Keigwin, 1996;
Kemp et al., 2011; Walker, 2013). Within a century or so, the
shorelines degraded, inundating any coastal habitation sites that
had been located on beaches seaward from the buttonwood and
sabal palm wetlands at Gilpin Point. This wetland was also
affected by the encroaching saltwater in at least two ways. First,
the increased salinity and direct contact with the ocean would
have made the wetland uninhabitable by buttonwood and sabal
palm. Second, the peat deposit would have begun to get covered
by beach sand.
We found no high-energy overwash sediment within the peat
deposit, that is, no coarse sandy to pebbly to cobbly storm-surge
facies such as those found in sediment cores in saline lakes on San
Salvador (Park, 2012). The short interval of time represented by
the peat is compatible with rapid sedimentation from inland areas
following initial anthropogenic fires on Abaco. The time of depo-
sition of peat at Gilpin Point corresponds with when people first
arrived on Abaco (Steadman et al., 2007). Prehistoric deforesta-
tion, accompanied by fire, may have increased the rate of sedi-
ment deposition in Abaco’s wetlands, which has been reported
independently on Abaco from the sediments of Emerald Pond
blue hole (Slayton, 2010). The charcoal at Gilpin Point also cor-
responds in time with charcoal reported in sediments from a blue
hole on Andros (Kjellmark, 1996). Similar increases in charcoal-
rich sediment influx, believed to be associated with human activ-
ity, have been reported on other Caribbean islands and even the
Atlantic coast of North America (e.g. Burney et al., 1994; Hilgart-
ner and Brush, 2006; Horn et al., 2000; Lane et al., 2009). At
Gilpin Point, the rapid deposition of peat (in less than a century,
from c. 950 to 900 cal. yr BP) was followed by breaching of the
former coastline (at least 200 m east of the modern one) and depo-
sition of beach sand over the peat.
Aside from a lower sea level, deposition of the peat was
enhanced by the limestone outcrop that exists just seaward from
the peat deposit. This formerly continuous outcrop, which once
would have served as a dam for the charcoal-rich sediment wash-
ing in from inland during deposition of the Gilpin Point site, has
been broken and breached in several places in the past two
decades during storms (e.g. Figures 5 and 8; PM, personal
observation).
Faunal change
With a late-Holocene age of ~950–900 cal. yr BP, the fossils from
Gilpin Point represent a vertebrate community at the time of ini-
tial Amerindian (Lucayan Taíno) presence; 7 of its 17 species
Figure 7. Specimen of green turtle (Chelonia mydas; NMB.AB62.7) from Gilpin Point, Abaco, The Bahamas, in dorsal (a) and ventral (b) aspects.
Photo by NAA.
Steadman et al. 227
(41%) of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals no longer live
on Abaco. Among well-dated assemblages of West Indian verte-
brates similar in age to those of Gilpin Point, much lower percent-
ages of extirpated species are found on islands where humans
arrived in the middle Holocene. For example, at the Trouing Jean
Paul site in Hispaniola (14C-dated from ~1600 to 600 cal. yr BP),
only 1 of 23 species (4%) of birds identified by Steadman and
Takano (2013) no longer occurs on the island. Amerindians had
arrived in Hispaniola four or five millennia earlier and already
had extirpated the most vulnerable species of vertebrates (Stead-
man et al., 2005). A similar situation took place on some Pacific
islands, where prehistoric human colonization led to huge losses
of species within a century or two (Steadman et al., 2002). The
species that survived the initial shock of human presence were
likely to persist into modern times.
Four of the seven extirpated species (Cuban crocodile,
Albury’s tortoise, white ibis, and Bahamian hutia) have been
reported previously from other Holocene sites on Abaco (Franz
and Franz, 2009; Franz et al., 1995; Morgan and Albury, 2013;
Steadman et al., 2007). The three other extirpated species (Baha-
mian rock iguana, Bermuda petrel, Cuban crow) are new records
for the island.
The morphology, systematics, and paleoecology of the Cuban
crocodile and Albury’s tortoise on Abaco have been reviewed
recently (Franz and Franz, 2009; Morgan and Albury, 2013;
Steadman et al., 2007). Until their extermination shortly after
human arrival, these two species were the largest terrestrial carni-
vore and herbivore on Abaco, respectively. The AMS 14C date on
Cuban crocodile from Gilpin Point is the youngest direct age
determination on the species and provides additional evidence
that the species existed on Abaco when Amerinidians colonized
the island. The Bahamian rock iguana is unknown on Abaco in
modern times. We suspect that it was a food item for Amerindians
on Abaco, as has been well documented on Grand Turk Island
(Carlson and Keegan, 2004). Late-Quaternary fossils of rock
iguana are also reported from Banana Hole, New Providence
Island (Pregill, 1982).
The Bermuda petrel breeds today only on Bermuda, where it is
common as a fossil (Olson and Meylan, 2009). This seabird was
believed to have been extinct for several centuries until its redis-
covery in 1951 and subsequent increase through intensive conser-
vation efforts (Howell, 2012: 176–178; Wingate, 1972). An
endangered species, the Bermuda petrel, does not occur in the
Bahamas today, although six prehistoric bones were reported
from Crooked Island (Olson and Hilgartner, 1982).
The white ibis has been recorded uncommonly in small num-
bers on several Bahamian islands (but not Abaco) in modern
times but is not known to breed in the island group (White, 1998:
234). Both white ibis fossil specimens (pedal phalanges) from
Gilpin Point represent nestlings or very young fledglings. Fossils
of nestling and fledgling white ibises also occur in the late-Holo-
cene sediments of Sawmill Sink on Abaco (Steadman et al.,
2007), further substantiating that this large aquatic bird once bred
on the island.
Nowadays in the Bahamian archipelago, the Cuban crow lives
only in the Caicos Islands, far to the south of Abaco (Buden,
1987). Its main geographic range is on Cuba and Isle of Pines.
The Cuban crow is known from late-Quaternary fossils on New
Providence Island, Little Exuma Island, Crooked Island, and
Eleuthera Island (Olson and Hilgartner, 1982; Steadman, unpub-
lished data); the fossils from Gilpin Point represent its northern-
most occurrence and its first record from any island on the Little
Bahama Bank. They also demonstrate that the Cuban crow was
still widespread in the Bahamas during the late Holocene.
The Bahamian hutia also was formerly widespread in the
Bahamas but survives on tiny East Plana Cay (28 km east of Ack-
lins Island) with introduced populations on certain islands in the
Exuma Chain (Borroto-Páez et al., 2012; Morgan, 1989; Olson
and Pregill, 1982). As with the Cuban crow (above), the range
contraction of the Bahamian hutia was mostly a late-Holocene
phenomenon.
Among extant species, the green turtle is a widespread marine
herbivore that is well represented at archaeological sites through-
out the West Indies (Newsom and Wing, 2004: 63). Adult female
green turtles are vulnerable to predation by people when they
come ashore to nest on sandy beaches. Our identification of A. cf.
distichus is evidence that this anole was not introduced to Abaco
in modern times but is indigenous to the island (contra Buckner et
al., 2012). The Bahamian boa and Bahamian racer occur on Abaco
today (Buckner et al., 2012; Krysko et al., 2013). Both of these
snakes also were recovered from the late Pleistocene owl roost
deposit in Sawmill Sink, Abaco, with the boa C. exsul reported as
Epicrates striatus and the racer C. vudii reported as Alsophis sp.
(Steadman et al., 2007; our updated nomenclature follows Hedges
et al., 2009, and Reynolds et al., 2013).
Cultural origin of the bone deposit
Numerous unhealed bite marks on the thick carapaces of the green
turtle are evidence of consumption by Cuban crocodiles. The fact
that the bite marks are well developed on the insides of the cara-
paces but not evident on the outer surfaces, suggests that the croco-
diles scavenged butchered green turtles rather than preying on
living turtles. Humans are the only terrestrial predators in the
Bahamas capable of splitting open the shell of an adult green turtle
to expose the meat and organs inside the carapace and plastron.
Human involvement in deposition of bones at Gilpin Point is sup-
ported further by the dense, midden-like concentration of large
bones (crocodile, green turtle, and tortoise) in the peat, and the fact
that some bones of both the green turtle and Abaco tortoise are
charred (burned). Berman et al. (2013) suggested that Lucayans
likely cooked/roasted sea turtles on their back in a hearth, which is
compatible with the charring on the outside of the carapaces.
Other species in the assemblage, such as the three fish, the
rock iguana, petrel, and crow, are also edible. The few large
marine shells (queen conch, West Indian top shell) are broken in a
way characteristic of prehistoric human processing. Nevertheless,
the only unequivocal Amerindian artifact recovered thus far is a
single shell bead (Figure 9). This round, well-polished specimen
is 3.4 mm wide, 1.4 mm deep, with a drilled hole 1.5 mm wide.
Similar shell beads have been reported from the Coralie Site on
Grand Turk Island (Keegan, 1997: Figure 8.2). We note as well
that the charcoal occurs throughout the sediments rather than in
local concentrations suggestive of hearths.
Figure 8. Section of limestone ridge broken by wave action, 13
November 2012, Gilpin Point, Abaco, The Bahamas. Note as well the
black trunks of Conocarpus erectus.
Photo by KLK.
228 The Holocene 24(2)
In spite of using fine-mesh sieves (1.6 mm in the field, 1.0 mm
in the laboratory), fossils of the three largest species of vertebrates
(crocodile, tortoise, green turtle) far outnumber those of the 16
much smaller species at Gilpin Point (c. 200 vs 46 specimens).
While prehistoric West Indian peoples typically preferred larger
species when available (Carlson and Keegan, 2004), they also
often deposited high numbers of small species in their middens
(Newsom and Wing, 2004). Among the 16 smaller species in the
deposit, the scarcity of fish in particular suggests that we have not
yet sampled the densest concentrations of bones in the site
because fish typically dominate the bone assemblages from pre-
historic archaeological sites in the region (e.g. Jones O’Day,
2002; Wing, 2001).
The fossil sample from Gilpin Point probably is based on the
prey remains left behind by humans as well as the Cuban croco-
dile. We found, nevertheless, very little non-boney evidence of
prehistoric human activity at the site, such a pottery or shell mid-
den (often dominated by conch shells Strombus spp.), both of
which occur routinely and often in abundance in subsurface
archaeological sites in the Bahamas and coastal Florida (Jones
O’Day, 2002; Keegan, 2007; Keegan et al., 2008; Marquardt,
2010a, 2010b). Our failure to find any pottery or rich shell mid-
den at Gilpin Point might be due to inadequate sampling; if the
site extends inland beneath the beach ridge (which seems likely),
then the peaty sediment that we have observed would represent
less than 1% of the entire site. It could be that c. 950–900 years
ago the Lucayans lived (at least seasonally) on a barrier beach
located on the seaward side of the current beach (and the prehis-
toric peat deposit). Wave breaks at high tide may have contributed
some relatively gentle overwash sand to the peat deposit (and
brought small marine mollusks with them), but as noted, evidence
of high-energy overwash sediment is lacking. The snails recov-
ered in the deposit are consistent with sheet-wash transport of
local terrestrial leaf litter and associated sediments into the peat
layer that was forming in the wetland.
Conclusion
The Gilpin Point site is a late-Holocene (c. 950–900 cal. yr BP)
intertidal, snail-rich, bone-rich peat deposit on the Atlantic coast
of Abaco, Bahamas. The site is significant from several stand-
points. The fossil plants and mollusks suggest that the site was a
freshwater or somewhat brackish coastal wetland at the time the
peat was deposited. The short time interval represented by the
peat is compatible with rapid sedimentation following initial
human-set fires on Abaco. The peat is exposed today only during
exceptionally low tides, suggesting a lower sea level at the time of
deposition as well as a degrading shoreline during the past
millennium.
As a sample of a late Holocene vertebrate community at the
time of first Amerindian presence, the fossils from Gilpin Point
demonstrate that Abaco has undergone major biotic changes dur-
ing the past c. 950 years of human occupation. Only 10 of the 17
identified species of non-fish vertebrates still live on Abaco. The
loss of seven species of reptiles, birds, and mammals included
Abaco’s largest terrestrial carnivore (Cuban crocodile) and its
three largest terrestrial herbivores (Albury’s tortoise, rock iguana,
and hutia). Unhealed crocodile bite marks on the inside of the
carapaces of green turtles suggest scavenging of turtles that had
been butchered by Lucayans.
The dense concentration of large bones in the peat, the charring
on some bones of the green turtle and Albury’s tortoise, and the
discovery of a shell bead, all point to a cultural origin of the bone
deposit at Gilpin Point. A challenge now is to search the beaches of
Abaco’s windward side to begin to learn whether the Gilpin Point
site is truly unique or merely represents a more common situation
that heretofore has been overlooked. During the lowest spring
tides of the coming winter, we look forward to this search.
Acknowledgements
We thank the National Museum of the Bahamas/Antiquities,
Monuments, and Museums Corporation (Michael Pateman, Keith
Tinker), Abaco Friends of the Environment (Michael Albury, Ol-
ivia Patterson, Kristin Williams), and the Bahamas National Trust
(Eric Carey, Lynn Gape, David Knowles) for furnishing permits,
logistical support, and many other courtesies. Sabrina Bethel,
Richard Franz, and Gary Morgan helped with preliminary collec-
tions. William Kenny (UF Department of Geology) kindly pro-
vided the loss on ignition data for our sediment samples. For com-
ments that improved the manuscript, we thank Karen Bjorndal,
Alan Bolton, Sally Horn, and Michelle LeFebvre.
Funding
Financial support was provided by the US National Science
Foundation (grant BCS-1118369 to DWS, and BCS-1118340 to
JF). This work represents the findings of the authors, and does not
necessarily reflect the opinion of the sponsors.
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... As a result of this dry cave bias, crocodiles were rare in the West Indian fossil record before paleontologists began expanding their search parameters for vertebrate fossils over the past 30 years. Quaternary fossil deposits from the West Indies now include: wet sites, such as underwater caves in the Dominican Republic and throughout the Bahamas (Franz et al., 1995;Steadman et al., 2007;Rosenberger et al., 2011;Morgan and Albury, 2013;Velazco et al., 2013;Albury et al., 2018); several types of open sites (i.e., noncaves), such as peat deposits on Grand Cayman, Abaco, and Grand Bahama Morgan, 1994;Morgan and Albury, 2013;Steadman et al., 2014); and a natural asphalt or tar pit deposit in Cuba (Iturralde-Vinent et al., 2000). An additional source of crocodile remains is from Amerindian archaeological sites, especially in the Bahamas (Wing, 1977;Keegan, 1988Keegan, , 1992Keegan, , 1997Carr et al., 2006;Steadman et al., 2014Steadman et al., , 2017. ...
... Quaternary fossil deposits from the West Indies now include: wet sites, such as underwater caves in the Dominican Republic and throughout the Bahamas (Franz et al., 1995;Steadman et al., 2007;Rosenberger et al., 2011;Morgan and Albury, 2013;Velazco et al., 2013;Albury et al., 2018); several types of open sites (i.e., noncaves), such as peat deposits on Grand Cayman, Abaco, and Grand Bahama Morgan, 1994;Morgan and Albury, 2013;Steadman et al., 2014); and a natural asphalt or tar pit deposit in Cuba (Iturralde-Vinent et al., 2000). An additional source of crocodile remains is from Amerindian archaeological sites, especially in the Bahamas (Wing, 1977;Keegan, 1988Keegan, , 1992Keegan, , 1997Carr et al., 2006;Steadman et al., 2014Steadman et al., , 2017. As in cave deposits, crocodile remains from archaeological sites mostly consist of isolated nondiagnostic elements. ...
... Radiocarbon dates derived directly from Late Quaternary fossils of the Cuban crocodile are known from only three islands in the West Indies: a date reported here from Oleg's Bat Cave in the Dominican Republic; seven dates from three sites on Abaco in the northern Bahamas (Franz et al., 1995;Steadman et al., 2007Steadman et al., , 2014Hastings et al., 2014); and two dates from two sites on Crooked Island in the southern Bahamas (Steadman et al., 2017). A 5 g sample of bone removed from the shaft of a tibia of Crocodylus rhombifer from Oleg's Bat Cave (MHD 574; associated with a skull, mandible, humerus, and femur) was submitted to Beta Analytic, Inc., in Miami, Florida for an AMS radiocarbon ( 14 C) date on bone collagen (Beta-457181). ...
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Late Quaternary fossils representing a locally extinct population of the Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) are reported from two underwater caves in the Dominican cny DOM A large fossil sample of C. rhombifer, from Oleg's Bat Cave near Bavaro in the southeastern Dominican cny DOM, consists of four nearly complete skulls, numerous isolated cranial elements and mandibles, and more than 100 postcranial bones representing most of the skeleton. These fossils were collected from a completely submerged portion of the cave at a depth of 11 m and about 100 m from the nearest entrance. A skull, mandibles, and two vertebrae of a Cuban crocodile were also found in a second cave called Ni-Rahu, northeast of Santo Domingo. We identify the fossil crocodile skulls from the Dominican cny DOM as Crocodylus rhombifer because they share the following characters with modern skulls of C. rhombifer from Cuba (as well as fossil skulls from Cuba, the Bahamas, and Cayman Islands): Short, broad, and deep rostrum; large orbits; convex nasals along the midline (midrostral boss); prominent swelling on the lacrimals anterior and medial to the orbits; low but obvious ridges extending anteriorly from the lacrimals to the nasals and posteriorly from the lacrimals to the prefrontals and frontals, outlining a distinct diamond- or rhomboid-shaped structure; strongly concave interorbital region and cranial roof; high, narrow ridges on the internal margins of the orbits, extending from the prefrontals to the frontals and posteriorly to the postorbitals; prominent ridges along the lateral margins of the cranial roof on the postorbitals and squamosals, terminating as noticeable protuberances on the posterolateral corners of the squamosals; premaxillary/maxillary suture on the palate essentially horizontal or transverse to the long axis of the skull at the level of the first maxillary tooth; 13 teeth in the maxilla. Certain aspects of the ecology and anatomy of living Crocodylus rhombifer in Cuba, and carbon isotope data from fossil crocodile bones from both the Dominican cny DOM and the Bahamas, indicate that the Cuban crocodile is a terrestrially adapted predator. The fossil deposits in Oleg's Bat Cave and other underwater caves in the Dominican cny DOM lack freshwater vertebrates, such as fish and turtles, but contain abundant samples of hystricognath rodents, small ground sloths, and other terrestrial vertebrates, including large land tortoises, that apparently were the primary prey of the crocodiles. Bats are abundant in the fossil deposits in Oleg's Bat Cave, and may have been an additional food source. Bone collagen from a tibia of C. rhombifer from Oleg's Bat Cave yielded an AMS radiocarbon date of 6460 ±30 ryrBP (equivalent to 7320 to 7430 cal yrBP). The chronology for the local extinction of C. rhombifer in Hispaniola is currently unknown, except to document the presence of this species in the eastern Dominican cny DOM in the early Holocene. Radiocarbon dates and historical records confirm that Cuban crocodiles survived into the period of European colonization (post-1492) in the Bahamas and on Grand Cayman. The only species of crocodile currently found in Hispaniola, the American crocodile (C. acutus), occurs in coastal marine habitats and in two inland brackishwater lakes: Lago Enriquillo in the Dominican cny DOM and the nearby Etang Saumâtre in Haiti. C. acutus has no fossil record in Hispaniola or elsewhere in the West Indies, suggesting that this species may be a very recent (late Holocene) immigrant in the Antillean region. Crocodylus rhombifer has one of the most limited geographic ranges of any living crocodylian species, known only from freshwater swamps in south-central Cuba and the Isla de Juventud (Isla de Pinos) off the southwestern coast of Cuba. Locally extinct or extirpated populations of C. rhombifer from fossil deposits in the Dominican cny DOM, Grand Cayman, and the Bahamas document a considerably wider distribution for this species during the Late Quaternary.
... As a result of this dry cave bias, crocodiles were rare in the West Indian fossil record before paleontologists began expanding their search parameters for vertebrate fossils over the past 30 years. Quaternary fossil deposits from the West Indies now include: wet sites, such as under¬ water caves in the Dominican Republic and throughout the Bahamas (Franz et al., 1995;Stead¬ man et al., 2007;Rosenberger et al., 2011;Morgan and Albury, 2013;Velazco et al., 2013;Albury et al., 2018); several types of open sites (i.e., noncaves), such as peat deposits on Grand Cayman, Abaco, and Grand Bahama Morgan, 1994;Morgan and Albury, 2013;Steadman et al., 2014); and a natural asphalt or tar pit deposit in Cuba (Iturralde-Vinent et al., 2000). An additional source of crocodile remains is from Amerindian archaeological sites, especially in the Bahamas (Wing, 1977;Keegan, 1988Keegan, , 1992Keegan, , 1997Carr et al., 2006;Stead¬ man et al., 2014Stead¬ man et al., , 2017. ...
... This ecological separation is reminiscent of Cuba where two crocodylian species occur in the same general geographic area, with C. acutus in coastal marine habitats and the Cuban crocodile C. rhombifer found primarily in freshwater swamps (Thorbjarnarson, 2010). C. acutus was reported from the Bellevue archaeological site on the southern coast of Jamaica (Wing, 1977;Wing and Reitz, 1982 (Franz et al., 1995;Steadman et al., 2007Steadman et al., , 2014Hastings et al., 2014); and two dates from two sites on Crooked Island in the southern Bahamas (Steadman et al., 2017). (Franz et al., 1995). ...
... This evidence has led most West Indian paleontologists to implicate humans in those extinctions (Morgan and Woods, 1986;Steadman et al., 2005Steadman et al., , 2017MacPhee, 2009;Cooke et al., 2017). Crocodylus has been identified from several Amerindian archaeological sites in the Bahamas, including sites on Abaco, Acklins, Crooked Island, and Eleuthera, as well as the Bellevue site on the southern coast of Jamaica, confirming that the first human inhabitants of the West Indies hunted crocodiles (Wing, 1977;Wing and Reitz, 1982;Keegan, 1988Keegan, , 1992Carr et al., 2006;Steadman et al., 2014Steadman et al., , 2017. in the freshwater drainages of the Orinoco River and its tributaries in Venezuela and Colombia in northern South America, but is also known from the southeastern Caribbean coast of Ven¬ ezuela and Trinidad (Crocodile Specialist Group, 1996). ...
... An increase in the relative abundance of weeds and herbs includes the native disturbance indicator Ambrosia-type pollen. An arrival date of about 830 CE is earlier than the age range for the Gilpin Point peat deposit in Abaco, where a Lucayan bead was discovered (35), and earlier than the age of human remains recovered from Abaco blue holes (Sawmill Sink, Great Cistern) (SI Appendix, Table S1). Given the mid-8th century age for the southern Lucayan occupation sites on San Salvador (Three Dog Site) and Grand Turk (Coralie Site), the evidence of landscape burning on Abaco by the mid-9th century suggests rapid expansion of the Lucayan culture through the Bahamian archipelago in less than 100 y. ...
... Given the mid-8th century age for the southern Lucayan occupation sites on San Salvador (Three Dog Site) and Grand Turk (Coralie Site), the evidence of landscape burning on Abaco by the mid-9th century suggests rapid expansion of the Lucayan culture through the Bahamian archipelago in less than 100 y. This is a much faster rate of Lucayan cultural expansion than has been considered previously (11,35,36). ...
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The first Caribbean settlers were Amerindians from South America. Great Abaco and Grand Bahama, the final islands colonized in the northernmost Bahamas, were inhabited by the Lucayans when Europeans arrived. The timing of Lucayan arrival in the northern Bahamas has been uncertain because direct archaeological evidence is limited. We document Lucayan arrival on Great Abaco Island through a detailed record of vegetation, fire, and landscape dynamics based on proxy data from Blackwood Sinkhole. From about 3,000 to 1,000 y ago, forests dominated by hardwoods and palms were resilient to the effects of hurricanes and cooling sea surface temperatures. The arrival of Lucayans by about 830 CE (2σ range: 720 to 920 CE) is demarcated by increased burning and followed by landscape disturbance and a time-transgressive shift from hardwoods and palms to the modern pine forest. Considering that Lucayan settlements in the southern Bahamian archipelago are dated to about 750 CE (2σ range: 600 to 900 CE), these results demonstrate that Lucayans spread rapidly through the archipelago in less than 100 y. Although precontact landscapes would have been influenced by storms and climatic trends, the most pronounced changes follow more directly from landscape burning and ecosystem shifts after Lucayan arrival. The pine forests of Abaco declined substantially between 1500 and 1670 CE, a period of increased regional hurricane activity, coupled with fires on an already human-impacted landscape. Any future intensification of hurricane activity in the tropical North Atlantic Ocean threatens the sustainability of modern pine forests in the northern Bahamas.
... Lying north of Cuba and Hispaniola, the Bahamian Archipelago (also called the Lucayan Archipelago) was the last West Indian island group colonized by Amerindians. From cal AD ~700 to 1000 (= ~1250 to 950 cal BP), people began to inhabit these low-lying limestone islands, which are surrounded by rich marine resources but with more limited and vulnerable terrestrial plant and animal communities (Berman and Gnivecki, 1995;Keegan, 1997;Carlson, 1999;Carlson and Keegan, 2004;Keegan et al., 2008;Newsom and Wing, 2004 Along with the predatory "Cuban" crocodiles (Crocodylus rhombifer), tortoises were the largest terrestrial animals available to the earliest human settlers on Bahamian islands (Morgan and Albury, 2013;Hastings et al., 2014;Steadman et al., 2014). ...
... We suspect that each carbonate bank in the archipelago harbored at least one endemic species of tortoise, although the fossils now available from some islands are not diagnostic enough to substantiate this claim. Nevertheless, we note here that Most of the AMS 14 C dates that we report here are from sites already mentioned in the literature, including Gilpin Point and Sawmill Sink on Abaco (Steadman et al., 2007(Steadman et al., , 2014Franz and Franz, 2009), McKay's Bluff Cave and 1702 Cave on Crooked Island (Steadman et al., 2017a), Indian Cave on Middle Caicos (Franz et al., 2000;Carlson et al., 2006), and the Coralie site on Grand Turk (Carlson, 1999;Franz et al., 2000;Carlson and Keegan, 2004;Carlson et al., 2006;Keegan et al., 2008). ...
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No native species of tortoises ( Chelonoidis spp.) live today in the Bahamian (Lucayan) Archipelago (= The Bahamas + The Turks and Caicos Islands), although a number of species inhabited these islands at the first human contact in the late-Holocene. Until their extinction, tortoises were the largest terrestrial herbivores in the island group. We report 16 accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) radiocarbon ( ¹⁴ C) dates determined directly on individual bones of indigenous, extinct tortoises from the six Bahamian islands (Abaco, Eleuthera, Flamingo Cay, Crooked, Middle Caicos, Grand Turk) on five different carbonate banks. These 16 specimens probably represent six or seven species of tortoises, although only one ( Chelonoidis alburyorum on Abaco) has been described thus far. Tortoises seem to have survived on most Bahamian islands for only one or two centuries after initial human settlement, which took place no earlier than AD ~700–1000. The exception is Grand Turk, where we have evidence from the Coralie archeological site that tortoises survived for approximately three centuries after human arrival, based on stratigraphically associated ¹⁴ C dates from both tortoise bones and wood charcoal. The stable isotope values of carbon (σ ¹³ C) and nitrogen (σ ¹⁵ N) of dated tortoise fossils show a NW-to-SE trend in the archipelago that may reflect increasing aridity and more consumption of cactus.
... These, along with introduced dogs, could themselves have been agents of landscape change (Campbell et al., 1991). Other animal species became either locally extirpated or extinct (Hastings et al., 2014;Steadman et al., 2007Steadman et al., , 2014Steadman et al., , 2017Steadman et al., , 2020Steadman and Franklin, 2015). Nevertheless, in terms of scale, any anthropogenic changes seen in pre-Columbian times pale in comparison to those of the Colonial period, when logging operations denuded the forests of valuable hardwoods such as mahogany (Swietenia sp.) and lignum vitae (Guaiacum sp.) and large plantations transformed the landscape. ...
Article
The limestone islands of the Bahamian archipelago provide a challenging environment for human settlement, one that was not taken up until after AD 700. The analysis of human skeletal remains offers new insights into how this challenge was met. A substantial program of AMS ¹⁴C dating on pre-Columbian humans (n = 66) provides a robust chronological framework for the period ca. AD 1000–1600, with the latter date suggesting the possible persistence of an indigenous Lucayan presence on the islands for some decades later than previously thought. Associated stable carbon (δ¹³C) and nitrogen (δ¹⁵N) isotope analyses imply an early focus on near-shore marine resources that seems to have rapidly led to their local over-exploitation, resulting in a shift towards horticulture based mainly on root crops. The Medieval Warm Period is very likely to have been a factor in the initial settlement of the islands; the impact of the Little Ice Age is less clear, with no marked changes in either δ¹³C or δ¹⁵N. Strontium isotope results are consistent with an origin of most individuals within the archipelago, with a limited (but potentially important for maintaining connections) presence of incomers from the Greater Antilles, and perhaps even further afield. Despite the relatively short history of pre-Columbian occupation, Lucayan adaptations to the Bahamian archipelago were dynamic and demonstrate resilience in the face of both human resource depletion and climate change.
... These, along with introduced dogs, could themselves have been agents of landscape change (Campbell et al., 1991). Other animal species became either locally extirpated or extinct (Hastings et al., 2014;Steadman et al., 2007Steadman et al., , 2014Steadman et al., , 2017Steadman et al., , 2020Steadman and Franklin, 2015). Nevertheless, in terms of scale, any anthropogenic changes seen in pre-Columbian times pale in comparison to those of the Colonial period, when logging operations denuded the forests of valuable hardwoods such as mahogany (Swietenia sp.) and lignum vitae (Guaiacum sp.) and large plantations transformed the landscape. ...
Article
Hafting adhesives play a crucial role in the study of composite objects such as hunting weapons. However, they tend to degrade rapidly and, when they exceptionally preserve, they represent only micro remains. Over the last 20 years, different techniques have been applied to study such hafting residues. These techniques include optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy and gas chromatography / mass spectrometry. Hafting adhesives have also been radiocarbon dated in some cases. Here, we present a multi-analytical approach using these techniques as well as photogrammetry and FTIR spectroscopy. Our integrated approach, combining these six techniques in a strategic order, allows us to document, characterise chemically and date hafting adhesives. We applied this methodology to a set of stone tools discovered in Sart-Saint-Laurent (Belgium) without any archaeological context. This multi-analytical work revealed that several of the tools have been hafted with a heated Pinaceae resin around the 2nd-4th century CE, although some of the artefacts can be attributed to the Neolithic. More generally, this work demonstrates the complementary nature of all the techniques employed and their crucial contribution to fully elucidate hafting techniques.
... differ little from those in the Greater Antilles except in their scale of expression, leading to what seems to have been permanent, island-wide settlement (C1, C2). Prehistoric cultivation of crops in the Bahamas, especially manioc, probably was facilitated through the burning of broadleaf forest in the dry season [factor A6, seasonal aridity (13,14)], although we do not know if it took place at a scale large enough to negate the potential limiting effect on agriculture of Bahamian nutrient-poor soils (factor A4). ...
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Comparing distributional information derived from fossils with the modern distribution of species, we summarize the changing bird communities of the Bahamian Archipelago across deep ecological time. While our entire dataset consists of 7,600+ identified fossils from 32 sites on 15 islands (recording 137 species of resident and migratory birds), we focus on the landbirds from four islands with the best fossil records, three from the Late Pleistocene (∼25 to 10 ka [1,000 y ago]) and one from the Holocene (∼10 to 0 ka). The Late Pleistocene sites feature 51 resident species that have lost one or more Bahamian populations; 29 of these species do not occur in any of the younger Holocene sites (or in the Bahamas today). Of these 29 species, 17 have their closest affinities to species now or formerly living in Cuba and/or North America. A set of 27 species of landbirds, most of them extant somewhere today, was more widespread in the Bahamas in the prehistoric Holocene (∼10 to 0.5 ka) than they are today; 16 of these 27 species were recorded as Pleistocene fossils as well. No single site adequately captures the entire landbird fauna of the combined focal islands. Information from all sites is required to assess changes in Bahamian biodiversity (including endemism) since the Late Pleistocene. The Bahamian islands are smaller, flatter, lower, and more biotically depauperate than the Greater Antilles, resulting in more vulnerable bird communities.
... A split shell indicates human presence since no terrestrial predators on Abaco were capable of this action . Radiocarbon-dated green turtle remains from Gilpin Point yielded a calibrated age (using Marine13, Reimer et al., 2013) of 910 to 1075 CE (2σ, probability: 1.0; Steadman et al., 2014). The extinction on Abaco of the native Albury's Tortoise (Chelonoidis alburyorum) and Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer)~1000 years ago (Hastings et al., 2014) potentially indicates anthropogenic landscape alteration, since decreasing faunal diversity often follows human island colonization (Alcover et al., 1998;Crowley, 2010;Steadman et al., 2005;Stuart, 2015). ...
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The Little Bahama Bank was likely the last island group colonized by the Lucayan natives in the tropical North Atlantic, but preserved Lucayan remains are rare from this region. Furthermore, the Lucayan diet included both marine and terrestrial contributions, which must be considered when calibrating conventional radiocarbon results from human remains into Common Era (CE) calendar years. Here we present a new discovery of Lucayan remains (proximal epiphysis of a right tibia) identified within a sinkhole on Great Abaco Island in the northern Bahamas, which was preserved in the extremely well-dated sedimentary infill (dated with 22 independent radiocarbon ages). The age of the human tibia was estimated through both the associated stratigraphy (relative age), and direct radiocarbon dating of the bone (absolute age). The direct age of the bone was calibrated by using a two-endmember mixing model to estimate the average proportion of marine versus terrestrial contributions to this individuals’ diet using the δ 13C value of the bone collagen and applying a local ΔR value for regional aquatic settings. Absolute dating places the age of the remains from Great Cistern between 1255 and 1340 CE (2σ, probability: 0.89). Applying the same mixing model to the previously discovered remains from Sawmill Sink on Great Abaco Island indicates those remains are in fact 100 to 200 years younger than the previous estimate with internment likely occurring between 1110 and 1290 CE (2σ, probability: 0.95).
... Microfossil ecology (e.g., foraminifera, ostracodes) has been used to document long-term groundwater salinity changes (Teeter, 1989;Alverez Zarikian et al., 2005;van Hengstum et al., 2010), and microfossil geochemistry can document local evaporation-precipitation ratio changes (Hodell et al., 2001;Hodell et al., 2005). Deposits in karst basins have transformed knowledge of regional faunal changes (Hearty et al., 2004;Steadman et al., 2014), while more recently, coarse-grained overwash deposits in coastal systems have been used to generate paleo hurricane reconstructions (Lane et al., 2011;Denomee et al., 2014; van Hengstum et al., 2014). However, investigation of the sedimentary processes that operate within karst basins remains an area of active research, which is required for accurate interpretation of paleo records from karst basins. ...
Article
Karst basins (e.g., blueholes, sinkholes) accumulate well-preserved sedimentary successions that provide transformative paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental information. However, the sedimentary processes within these basins are not yet fully understood. Here we present stable carbon isotopic values (δ¹³Corg) and C:N ratios of bulk organic matter in well-dated sediment cores from Blackwood Sinkhole (Abaco, The Bahamas) to investigate the changing flux of organic matter into the sinkhole during the late Holocene. The provenance of preserved organic matter changed through the late Holocene between three primary sources, as determined by three-endmember mixing modeling: wetland organic matter from the adjacent epikarst surface, authigenic primary productivity in the oligohaline meteoric lens, and terrestrial organic matter from the surrounding landscape. Expansion of wetlands on the adjacent epikarst surface played a critical role by increasing the flux of wetland organic matter to the sinkhole, especially during the last 1000 years. Hurricanes and regional rainfall may have mediated organic matter delivery to the benthos, either through hampering wetland development (prior to 1000 cal yr BP) or by changing dissolved nutrient concentrations available in the basin for primary producers. These results demonstrate that organic matter provenance in karst basins is not constant through time, and is significantly dependent upon both landscape vegetation on the epikarst surface and changing hydrographic conditions that impacts nutrient availability to primary producers.
Article
Since the late Pleistocene humans have caused the extinction of species across our planet. Placing these extinct species in the tree of life with genetic data is essential to understanding the ecological and evolutionary implications of these losses. While ancient DNA (aDNA) techniques have advanced rapidly in recent decades, aDNA from tropical species, especially birds, has been historically difficult to obtain, leaving a gap in our knowledge of the extinction processes that have influenced current distributions and biodiversity. Here we report the recovery of a nearly complete mitochondrial genome from a 2,500 year old (late Holocene) bone of an extinct species of bird, Caracara creightoni, recovered from the anoxic saltwater environment of a blue hole in the Bahamas. Our results suggest that this extinct species is sister (1.6% sequence divergence) to a clade containing the extant C. cheriway and C. plancus. Caracara creightoni shared a common ancestor with these extant species during the Pleistocene (1.2-0.4 MYA) and presumably survived on Cuba when the Bahamas was mostly underwater during Quaternary interglacial intervals (periods of high sea levels). Tropical blue holes have been collecting animals for thousands of years and will continue to improve our understanding of faunal extinctions and distributions. In particular, new aDNA techniques combined with radiocarbon dating from Holocene Bahamian fossils will allow us to place other extinct (species-level loss) and extirpated (population-level loss) vertebrate taxa in improved phylogenetic, evolutionary, biogeographic, and temporal contexts.
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