By Todd Ahlman
Earlier this year we had a PAST Posts blog entry on the importance of an archaeological field school to any budding archaeologist’s development and career. It proved to be one of our more popular posts and I hope many students used it this year as a guide in selecting their field school.
This summer, CAS is holding an archaeological field school on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts with students from Texas State University. As part of their field school experience, our students will be submitting a series of blog posts over the next few weeks. We hope that they and our readers will find these posts fun and informative.
The purpose of any archaeological field school is to train students in archaeological methodologies so they are better prepared for careers in archaeology, cultural heritage/resource management, and historic preservation. The Texas State In St. Kitts Archaeological Field School is designed to not only focus on archaeological field methods, but to give students a broader understanding of local culture, history, or make them aware of how their research can inform not only island visitors but also the local population of the past. Our intent is to offer students not only archaeological experience, but also opportunities to communicate their research to island visitors and to interact with Kittitians, the St. Christopher National Trust, and tours of local heritage sites.
Throughout the course of the archaeological field school, students will have training in field and laboratory methods. At the course’s end students should expect to have the following skills and knowledge:
- Archaeological survey and excavation methods;
- How to use a GPS unit and tablet computer in recording site attributes;
- Laboratory processing and artifact analysis;
- Interaction with public and descendant communities;
- Interaction with clients, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations;
- And how archaeology contributes to our understanding of the past and present.
To put our project into further context, St. Kitts is located in eastern Caribbean approximately 350 miles southeast of Puerto Rico. Pre-Columbian Amerindians settled on St. Kitts as early as 3000 years ago and occupied the island until 1625 when the British and French massacred most of the Amerindians at Bloody Point. The British colonized St. Kitts in 1623 and the French followed in 1624. The two countries shared the island until 1713, when the British gained total control. The island was a British colony until 1983 when it and sister island Nevis gained their independence and formed the small country in the western hemisphere. Indigo and tobacco were two important early crops, but by the mid-seventeenth century sugar was introduced and became the single most important crop on the island and across the Caribbean. Sugar cultivation requires lots of labor and in the British Caribbean enslaved Africans were forcibly brought to labor in the fields. Thousands of Africans were brought to the island to maintain the workforce. Slavery was abolished in 1834, but the slaves and their descendants worked in the sugar fields until 2005 when the St. Kitts government closed the island’s sugar industry.
Our project is looking at one slave village and an Amerindian site on the St. Kitts’ southeast peninsula. The slave village is shown on several maps dating to the eighteenth century and may possibly date to as early as the French occupation of that part of the island. We are focusing on two to three locations where we have identified slave quarters from surface features. Earlier excavations at one slave quarter identified a pit cellar under the structure. We plan to expand in this area as well as behind the structure where we assume living activities occurred. A dense midden was identified at one other structure and we will investigate it further as well as excavate around the quarters. We have tentatively identified another structure and will explore it. Little is currently know about the Amerindian site, but the presence of pottery on the surface suggests at least a Saladoid or later occupation. We plan to excavate a few exploratory units to assess integrity and artifact density.
We began working this past week at the slave village. Early in the week students were oriented to the project and site, and we worked at learning to lay in units, excavation and screening techniques, and proper ways to fill out paperwork. In the coming weeks we will work on refining excavation techniques, learning to use a GPS unit, how to survey with a compass, laboratory methods, artifact analysis, and other things vital to being an archaeologists (like never get separated from your lunch). Keep following the blog to learn more about the students’ experiences.
Funding for the project was provided through a grant from the Christophe Harbour Foundation and Texas State University, specifically Dean Mike Hennessy in the College of Liberal Arts and Dr. Mike Blanda in the Office of Research and Federal Relations. Assistance is being provided by the Texas State University Study Abroad Program, Dr. Beth Erhart in the Department of Anthropology, the St. Christopher National Trust, and Pereira Tours. Permission for the project was granted from the St. Kitts Department of Physical Planning.
Dr. Todd Ahlman is the Director of the Center for Archaeological Studies. He has worked in the cultural resources field for more than 25 years.