And we’re back! My site was hacked a little while ago…. But everything has been fixed and we’re online again. I’ve been doing some real great projects lately, so I’ll have to catch up and show what I’ve been doing in the meanwhile!
On many of the islands throughout the Caribbean, you can find archaeological museums displaying the local history and heritage. On Bonaire, one of the Dutch Caribbean islands, this is not the case. With approximately 250,000 tourists visiting the island by cruise ships and another 70,000 staying on the island for its beautiful diving, Ruud Stelten and I find this a missed opportunity!
Ruud, my former colleague on St. Eustatius, and I have been working on setting up a new archaeological museum, Terramar, which will be opening in October this year. Ruud leads this project and I function as the Museum and Collection Consultant. Besides helping out with the displays, selecting artefacts and setting up loans with other musea, I’m also involved in developing educational programs and writing information sheets for the museum. Our intention is to give the visitor a one-hour tour of the region’s past, from the precolonial period to the present. Themes that we will touch on are food, settlement and ritual practices, the maritime world, slavery and long-distance exchange networks. Of course, Bonaire’s specific history will be highlighted, but our goal is to give the visitor a much better idea how people in the Caribbean are connected through the Caribbean Sea.
Last week Ruud and I visited the Florida Museum of Natural History. I worked here for my Ph.D. and knew the museum curates one of the largest collections of precolonial artefacts from the Caribbean region in the world. Working together with the curator and my former advisor Dr. Bill Keegan, we selected a large number of artefacts that we will bring to Bonaire to put on display. We have a variety of ceramic pieces with different styles from different islands, but also stone, shell and bone artefacts. We’re really excited about these artefacts and cannot wait to see our first visitors admire them in our museum!
We were also lucky to be able to set up a loan of materials from St. Augustine, the first city in the United States. We haven’t made the full selection of the materials, but I’m very sure they’ll include some very special pieces. Together with other artefacts from collections on Curacao and St. Eustatius, we will be able to give our visitors one of the most diverse Caribbean collections on display in world!
The coming weeks, Ruud and I will continue to develop the exhibit and create a archaeological museum that will capture the interest of many. I’ll keep you posted of all the developments!
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.
Today is the last full day on Bonaire. I’ve been here a little over a week, but the day that I walked out of the plane and looked at that bright pink airport building (people who have been here before know what I am talking about!) seems months ago. So much has happened; I experienced a new island, learned new things how to build a museum and met new people. At the same time, I caught up with some good friends that live here now. It’s been a great trip and I can’t believe the end is already here…
Ruud and I made some great progress on the Terramar Museum. After finalizing the meetings with the designers, builders and architects last Wednesday, we have been working on the content of the museum. Most of the work is with the texts in the exhibit. We need to edit the pieces we prepared previously and reduce the size, as shorter texts are better readable for the average visitor. We also decided to add ‘soundbites from the past’ to the exhibit, where a person living in the past tells about an important event. By making these texts as a personal quote, we’re trying to make the information more palatable and create a more personal approach.
Ruud and I also contacted a British artist who specializes in archaeological reconstruction drawings. We know this artist from previous work on Statia and asked him about making three drawings for the Terramar Museum. His drawings are really nice and with the information we will give, he can visualize a large part of the story that we want to tell. We walked through the museum one more time to envision where all our artefacts, images and text would be displayed and noticed that they started renovating the interior. Hopefully they will make a lot of progress in the coming weeks. I’m sure we will have a great museum this year and I can’t wait for the doors to open. Hopefully some of you will be able to come and see it with your own eyes!
An example of Caribbean efficiency: 24 hours after hearing that I could travel to Bonaire, I landed on this beautiful island! It is my first visit, and so far, I’m loving every moment of it. Testing the waters and diving will definitely be part of my trip, but the main reason for my visit might actually be even more exciting than that.
This week is a very important week for the Terramar Museum. For four days straight, we have meetings with the designers and builders of the exhibit and the architect of the building. We are deciding, based on input of all parties, all facets of the museum; the content of the exhibit, what route the visitor will walk, what messages we want to convey, what artefacts will be displayed, how we are going to make use of the space in front of the museum and how we will accommodate all the visitors that will want to enjoy our museum. All big decisions, and all decisions that will affect a lot of plans and ideas in the future!
Yesterday, it was the first day I saw the building. The location is ideal; right behind the first row of shops on the boulevard, right at the location where the cruise ships land. The historic building will be restored, but walking in the rooms and main hall, I started the visualize everything. I had seen photos, but actually going through the doors, walking up the stairs and experiencing the building is a totally different thing. And it was a positive one; the building was much bigger than I anticipated, the rooms were more spacious and with the plans of the architect in mind I visualized a beautiful building with lots and lots of potential. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, but it is totally energizing to see all these great things happen.
For the exhibition, we are working together with Northernlight and Bruns, both renowned companies in designing and building musea and exhibits all around the world. These days have been extremely helpful and together we’re building great plans. Ruud and I formulate the content of the exhibit, summarizing the scientific knowledge that we have about the Caribbean’s past. Northernlight uses the information and transforms it into something that people enjoy reading or seeing. Our plan is not to just give people ‘dry’ facts and information, but to engage the visitor, trigger them to interact with the content of the exhibit and make them think of the museum after they walk out of the last door. We are designing projections on maps, working with light and sound, thinking of miniature villages that display episodes of daily life and interpretation drawings that cover large walls. With all these crazy ideas and concepts, we turn to Bruns who nods and confirms that they can build it.
These are longs days. There is not too much time for discussing these big topics and making such important decisions. On the other hand, I am totally stoked about this project and it just gives me a lot of energy. It’s also a good experience, as designers and builders have a totally different point of view, bringing new solutions (and problems!) to the floor. I learned about maximum capacity of visitors we could handle, how to design a walk-route and many other details I never thought about. Real hands-on experience in building a museum from the start. It’s a unique, probably once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
I’ll keep you posted!
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!
The first week of the UNESCO underwater cultural heritage foundation course has finished! It has been busy, with long days full with new information, materials and practical courses. We have a large international group with all really nice people, coming from South Africa, the Netherlands, Belize, Cuba, Haiti Dominican Republic, St. Eustatius, Bonaire, Suriname, Venezuela, Canada and the UK. The foundation course is meant to teach everyone how to deal underwater cultural heritage and all the facets that are involved.
The focus of last week was on the UNESCO side of things and an introduction to basics of underwater archaeology. We talked about the UNESCO convention on (underwater) cultural heritage and learned the different ways of measuring objects and structures under water and practiced it on land. Furthermore, we looked at the different methods for surveying, non-destructive techniques including multibeam and side-scan sonar and excavation techniques. All in all, we have had a lot of information to process this week.
We also dove one morning to get acquainted with our diving equipment and familiarize ourselves with how to move around under water. We also practiced some survey techniques under water and tried to take six measurements of a canon that was laying on the bottom of the sea. This proved to be more difficult than I expected. With the moving of the water, the obstacles in the water and your own stability, it is difficult to make sure that the tape straight and located exactly at your control point and the point you want measure in. We’ll practice that more in two weeks and I’m looking forward to getting more experience and get better at it.
It has been a great week. I learned lots of new legislation that I was not familiar with, got acquainted with new techniques and methodology that people use and realized how difficult it is to work under water. I met new people from around the world that are passionate about archaeology and our underwater cultural heritage. Besides that, it has been a lot of fun as well and I’m really enjoying how much energy I get from hanging around all these people that share my passion. And there are three more weeks to come and I’m looking forward to it!
In two weeks from now, I’ll be flying to the Caribbean. I have been invited to participate in a foundation course for the protection and management of underwater cultural heritage, organized by UNESCO. The course will take place between November 17 and December 14 on St. Eustatius, Dutch Caribbean. I lived on that island for almost a year, so this trip will also be a reunion in a way. The island is very small (only 21km2, 8 sq mi), giving it an unique character. I’m really looking forward to it, seeing my friends again, playing soccer on the local field and, of course, diving the beautiful waters around this special island.
The course will be a great opportunity to learn how to deal with cultural materials found underwater and how to protect and/or preserve them. Everyone will immediately envision a beautiful wooden ship, preserved perfectly in the water. Unfortunately, not all materials are preserved that way. Currents and storms, but also chemical reactions and animals affect artefacts under water. Also, taking artefacts out of the water is not always the best solution if you want to preserve them. We’ll learn how we can deal with various factors that affect objects, but also how to document what and how we found it.
Most of the course is theoretical and we’ll have classes at the building of the St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research (SECAR), but we’ll be in the water for a week too to practice what we’ve learned. It’ll be an exciting new challenge that combines my passion for diving and archaeology!
Welcome to my blog! I want to use this space to keep everyone updated on my latest projects, ideas and prospects for the future. It will be a blend of subjects that are of interest of me, that I come across and find worthwhile sharing and posts that triggered me to think in a different way. It is a digital forum to share my personal thoughts and experiences on academic and non-academic topics.