Four intense weeks!

I’ve been back for a couple of days from St. Eustatius, but I’ve been thinking back a lot. It was such a good overall experience; seeing old friends on the island, making new friends with my fellow course participants and instructors and learning a lot from leaders in the field of underwater cultural heritage. These four weeks have been intense and I enjoyed every second. It has been an absolute privilege to have this chance and I see a lot of future possibilities with this course.

As far as works comes, our lectures ranged from legislation on underwater cultural heritage, to methodology and information on shipbuilding. A lot of attention was also paid to public outreach and how to display and communicate your research to a wider public. This is part of the mission of UNESCO and is something I totally support (one of the reasons for this blog). We had classes in public archaeology and museology, giving both theoretical perspectives and practical tips how to translate your findings to a wider public.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we also had a one week training in underwater methodology. We investigated an area of Lower Town, St. Eustatius. About 100 m away from the beach, there is a ‘wall’ located in the water. People always assumed that this wall was artificial and constructed as a breakwater, but no actual archaeological research was ever done. To tackle this problem, we divided all the participants into three separate groups. One would research the wall, others the old warehouses that were partially on land, partially in the water, and the last group would look at an old pier.

Without going in too much detail, we came to some very interesting conclusions. First of all, the ‘wall’ is not (completely) artificial. Large parts were natural, with only few locations that showed some human construction efforts. However, these constructed parts did not look as structurally intact as other walls that we found in our study area and seemed opportunistically build rather than planned. Although we found historical documents suggesting that a wall was planned in this location in the early 19th century, our underwater study shows that this plan was never fully realized. The study on the warehouses also showed that the warehouses were partially placed in the water. The front of the walls were extremely thick in comparison with other walls, meaning that they were build to withstand the constant impact of the sea. The old pier was a later addition to the area, when St. Eustatius’ economy already declined.

As a group, we also conducted a bay-wide underwater survey of Jenkins Bay. The French landed here when they took control of the island in 1781. During our survey, we were looking for materials that might have been left behind during this invasion, but besides turtles, a big nurse shark, some car tires and modern rope, we didn’t find anything. Even though it was very unfortunate we didn’t find anything, our group conducted the first full underwater survey of this part of the island!

Governor Berkel  visited our group to hear what we were doing on his island, Dr. Jay Haviser, archaeologist on St. Maarten, came over for a short visit and we presented our research on the Lower Town area in two public venues during our stay; the library and the historical museum. In addition, we presented the course goals, our research and future recommendations on six posters that are currently displayed at the historical museum. Hopefully we will reach more locals and tourists on these islands through these posters in the future and inform them on what we did during our four weeks on the island.

What an experience! As I said before, the academic opportunities are great and I feel very lucky that I have had this chance. On the other hand, it has been an incredible time and I have made many new friends. The course brought so many people together from across the Caribbean and we have a large network of people that are all invested in underwater cultural heritage in the region. There are already many plans to continue and build upon this partnership in future projects, but more on this in later posts!

Enjoy the holiday season!