I have been back for almost a week from my Caribbean trip. The last part of the trip was the IACA, the biannual meeting of the International Association of Caribbean Archaeology. This year, Dr. Jay Haviser hosted the meetings on St. Maarten. It was a great success.
This year’s meeting was full of high quality talks and posters, good discussions and interesting perspectives for the future. I was really impressed with what people are doing in the Caribbean and we really starting to make waves on an international level. Ancient DNA, Lidar, network theory, using kites and drones for 3D models of research areas and excavations, all of it was there. I am super excited for the future and being a part of this community of highly driven and dedicated archaeologists.
I presented a poster and a few artefacts from the slave village we excavated in 2011/2012 on St. Eustatius. As part of our commitment to show our findings beyond St. Eustatius, we set up a travelling exhibit which started at this IACA conference. It was a great success with even two photos in the local newspaper! I’m glad to see that people responded well to the poster, were interested in what we had done and that the press picked up on it and thought of it as something the general public in St. Maarten would be interested in.
Finally, we also visited Anguilla for a day. And what a day! Under police escort (I’m not sure why, but I felt like royalty!), we visited multiple archaeological sites; the one located on even more beautiful bay than the previous one. We were also part of the opening of a new national park on Anguilla, Fountain Cave. This cave holds one of the few fresh water lenses on the island and is full of petroglyphs. It is not possible to enter the cave, but they are building 3D models to let visitors experience the cave without destroying it. Also, the people of Anguilla brought out some of the most beautiful and interesting artefacts I have ever seen, all found on the island. They are normally kept in a safe in the National Bank, but this day they were taken out and the IACA delegates were allowed to see them. Very special indeed!
What a conference! Great talks, great people, awesome nights, conversations, opportunities and excursions! I’ll remember this one for a long time.
After leaving Bonaire, I travelled straight to St. Eustatius. I lived on this tiny island for almost a year and have a lot of good memories and friends here. Seeing the Quill, the iconic volcano that dominates the landscape, from the airplane window put a smile on my face. In a lot of ways, this island is special. It is small, secluded, away from resorts and cruise ships that have taken over many of the Caribbean islands, the island’s harbor was the largest in the whole world in the late 18th century and a lot of wealth was accumulated here. Little is left from that period, but the ruins and old buildings still breath history.
In my two weeks here, I mainly focused on two projects. First, the airport is being renovated and new fences, helicopter hangar and lights are placed on the property. These efforts require digging in the ground and the St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research has monitored all the work. As there is a known precolonial settlement on the airport’s property, it is crucial that an archaeologist is there to see what is exposed. During the work, we have found multiple artifacts that belong to the precolonial period, but also historic artifacts. Most of the work has been superficial, not deep enough to get to the layers where we could find features, but the finds are still relevant. The distribution of the pottery, for example, shows us where the site is approximately located. In addition, we found some historic features of a fence of a house, but a large part of the structure was already disturbed by previous construction efforts. During my time here, there has not been a lot of work done on this project, but I have worked on the report and the artefacts coming from the site.
The second project is more interesting. In the year before I arrived on the island, SECAR excavated a part of a slave village and found numerous house structures. In my time here, we applied for funding to excavate the remaining part of the village and transform the materials into an exhibition at our local museum. The funding was granted and the whole project was a big success with king Willem of the Netherlands opening it in 2013. Two years have gone by and part of the exhibition is travelling to St. Maarten first and then Saba. On St. Maarten, we will display the exhibition during the IACA, a conference on Caribbean archaeology. After that, we will move it to the St. Maarten museum. Then, the exhibit will travel to Saba and it’ll be on display in the local heritage center. This is a unique opportunity for us to show the rich history of St. Eustatius on the other islands. The last two weeks I have been organizing this exhibit, selecting artefacts that showcase the story that we want to tell about slave life on the island, getting all the paperwork to carry the artefacts of the island, printing the posters, and everything else that is involved in this endeavor. Everything is done and on Sunday we will leave. I’m glad everything worked out and I hope we’ll get a lot of good feedback when we have it on display.