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Bahamian Ship Grafitti

Grace S. R. Turner
Thesis: December 2004
Chair: Smith

    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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