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Precolonial/early colonial human burials from the site of White Marl, Jamaica: New findings from recent rescue excavations

A short report about the rescue excavation of three human burials at the White Marl site on Jamaica was recently published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. This report is the result of a joint collaboration between Hayley L. Mickleburgh, Jason E. Laffoon, Jaime R. Pagán-Jiménez, Angus A.A. Mol, Selvenious Walters, Zachary J.M. Beier, and Corinne L. Hofman.


The recent excavation of three human burials at White Marl, Jamaica (AD 900–1500), presented an important opportunity to garner new insight into precolonial life and death on Jamaica. The study, undertaken as a part of a collaborative heritage mitigation programme in the wake of planned infrastructural development of parts of the site, focused on burial practices and ancient diet and mobility. The results reveal that the burial treatment of these three individuals is consistent with contemporaneous practices observed throughout the Caribbean in regard to burial location, body treatment, body position, and grave goods. The radiocarbon dates of the three individuals are consistent with a long occupation span of the site (cal. AD 1221–1641) and additionally reveal the possibility that one of the individuals (Burial 3) lived during the Spanish colonial occupation of the island. Carbon and nitrogen isotopic analysis of bone collagen of the three individuals indicates a relatively low marine protein contribution to the diet. Carbon isotope values from tooth enamel are consistent with whole diets dominated by C3‐plants. Starch grains identified in dental calculus indicate that, similar to contemporaneous sites throughout the region, White Marl inhabitants were consuming arrowroot, palms, achira, maize, and wild beans. Plant preparation techniques included grinding, roasting, and toasting. In addition, the tentative identification of a Theobroma cacao starch grain in Burial 1 represents the first finding of precolonial cocoa in the Caribbean islands. Expansion of the strontium isotope programme is needed to improve our understanding of the mobility of the White Marl population; however, tentative assessment of the results suggests that Burial 2 may have originated from elsewhere on the island of Jamaica.

To read the article, click here.

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