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Bahamian Ship Grafitti
- Grace S. R. Turner
- Thesis: December 2004
The Bahamian archipelago covers over 5,000 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean at
the northwestern edge of the Caribbean Sea. In the Age of Sail, from the late
15th to early 20th centuries, these islands were on major sailing routes between
the Caribbean, Central America, and Europe. Bahamians developed life-ways using
their islands’ location to their advantage.
Archaeological evidence of the
significance of shipping activity is quite lacking. This research aimed to help
fill the void by documenting examples of ship graffiti throughout the Bahamas.
Examples of ship graffiti were documented with photographs and tracings. The
Bahamian examples all date to the 19th and 20th centuries, 100 years later than
other examples from the Caribbean and North America. They are also unique in
being incised into the stone surfaces of building walls, caves, stones on a
hillside, even on a slate fragment. It is possible that ship graffiti were also
engraved on wooden surfaces but these have not survived in the archaeological
record. Images depict locally-built vessels such as sloops and schooners as well
as larger, ocean-going vessels.
Ship graffiti are at sites associated mainly
with people of African heritage, another possible social grouping being persons
of lower economic status. Graffiti details consistently indicate that the
artists were familiar with ship construction and rigging. This analysis of ship
graffiti gives some understanding of the significance of ships and shipping in
the Bahamian economy.
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