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As my car crests the rise and plunges down Horse Hill road toward the Atlantic shore below, I search the still-dark eastern horizon with a photographer's anxiety: will this dawn bring that just-right balance of clouds and clear sky for a spec- tacular sunrise? Minutes later, with my tripod set up on the beach, I have my answer, and the sun rises majestically through the mist beyond Bathsheba's coral sentinels, as it has done for eons.
Just when man first witnessed this sometimes stunning scene is impossible to say with precision, but the current evidence suggests that peoples of the Saladoid-Barrancoid culture may have migrated northward to Barbados from their ancestral home in Venezuela's Orinoco Valley as early as the first century B.C. Few traces of their culture have been uncovered in Barbados, but from excavations at other sites they are known to have been primarily an agricultural people, who relied on fishing to supplement their diet.
For the next fourteen centuries the island would be home to Native American peoples peoples historically referred to as Indi- ans, or, in the anthropologists' word, Amerindians. Those earli- est Saladoid-Barrancoid colonizers would, over time, be supplant- ed by another South American people, the Arawaks, who had estab- lished themselves on Barbados by about the eighth century A.D.
The traces the Amerindians left on the landscape were slight, so it is easy to forget the fact that they made Barbados their home for far longer than has the present Euro-African civilization. And yet, when the first English colonists arrived in 1627, there were no people on the island. Why? Because the In- dians who had once lived on the island had already fallen victim to another people aggressively exploring and colonizing the Caribbean in the early 16th century: the Europeans.
While Columbus's daring feat of navigation and discovery may have been a heroic advance from the European viewpoint, for the peoples of the New World it was clearly a disaster. The stable world the Indians had known for centuries was suddenly and vio- lently transformed. Within just a few decades of European con- tact, the island populations of the Caribbean had been decimated by warfare, enslavement, loss of lands for hunting, fishing, and farming, and, above all, by exposure to European diseases to which the Indians had no immunity. Excerpt from Chapter One: Origins