A few years ago Perry Maillis, a land owner in South Abaco and an avid beach comber, found something that looked like a bone. But it was “not a Kentucky Fried Chicken bone” as he jokingly said. Intrigued by his find, he contacted Friends of the Environment and since then, his collection of bones has increased by dozens.
His trove ended up being one of the most important finding s on the island with evidence of the first inhabitants of The Bahamas and the species that became extinct because of their impact on the islands . That bone was of a tortoise which was radiocarbon dated to be over 900 years old.
Since then many more fossils were recovered on that shore after the involvement of Nancy Albury, a researcher and the local Office Manager of the Antiquities, Museums and Monuments Corporation and of Paleontologist Dr. D avid Steadman, a frequent visitor to Abaco involved in the Sawmill Sink Fossil Research Project.
During the first day of January’s Science Alliance Conference, which hosted many outstanding researchers on the environment of Abaco, Dr. Steadman made a presentation on the findings at Gilpin Point. The discoveries led the scientists to deduce the diet of the first inhabitants (likely the Lucayan Indians), the animals that were around at the time (some now extinct on Abaco)and the location of the coast line which seems to have receded several hundred feet.
Professor Steadman started his presentation by stating that faunal and landscape changes on Abaco had been derived from the study of a complex prehistoric site: Gilpin Point.
The fossil story on Abaco started with the finding of a tortoise shell in the Sawmill Sink Bluehole. The bluehole was a low energy zone, he explained; Gilpin Point is a high energy area with changes at high tide and low tide and rise in sea level. The fossils at Gilpin Point were discovered in peat deposits found under water, approximately nine to ten inches deep under the sand at the lowest of low tide. According to Mr. Maillis this only occurs for a couple of months per year, in November and December.
Transmitting his excitement about the project to the listeners, Dr. Steadman imparted the preliminary conclusions that a group of scientists, himself included, had deducted from the site. Because of the peat containing Cabbage Palm fossils and the buttonwood stumps still on the beach that were radiocarbon dated to around 950AD, suggests that the area was a lagoon at that time and the position of the beach was much further offshore than it is today.
Buttonwood lives near fresh water, he explained, so buttonwoods are a strong indication of a rise in the sea level since then.
The fossils of animals included pieces of shells of green turtles bearing marks of crocodile bites. The bone pieces found at Gilpin Point are much smaller than the ones found in the blue hole, but they are very abundant.
The bones were burnt indicating the presence of humans.
Bite marks on the inside of the shell indicates that the turtles were probably killed, cooked and eaten by humans but the crocodiles later scavenged the remains. The only human artifact found on the site was a round polished shell bead.
Besides the bones of sea turtles and tortoises, bones of Cuban Crows, one tooth from a hutia and several belonging to Cuban Crocodiles were also recovered.
The researchers were able to identify seventeen species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, of which only ten still live on Abaco.
The site is important not only for pre-history but also gives us a perspective of fauna and flora on the island before and during the arrival of the first inhabitants.