crew shot st. kitts

A Brief Window into Slave Economy: Field School Experience #4

By Ashley Riddle

Ashley, Kathleen, and Rachel laying in an excavation unit.
Ashley, Kathleen, and Rachel laying in an excavation unit.

The reasons that initially drew me in to this field school are the same reasons that I chose to pursue an anthropology degree. As an American, growing up in this generation, sometimes I feel that I’ve lost touch with my own heritage and cultural traditions. Anthropology and particularly archaeology gives people the opportunity to learn about cultural traditions, ritual practices, and beliefs by analyzing the things that are left behind. It’s an incredibly important field of work that is much more physically demanding than I expected, but in the end is much more rewarding than anything I could ever imagine.

Dr. Ahlman was a guest speaker in my Introduction to Archaeology class, and his passion for this project really caught my attention. He has been working here in St. Kitts for almost 20 years and his work is helping to tell the story of the people who lived here, and are left out of and do not have a voice of their own in our history books. All that’s left are the structures, ceramics, and other artifacts that archaeologists can analyze and use to piece together the story of the past.

During the first week of field school, we learned how to locate a possible site, which was pretty obvious because there were artifacts strewn about the entire surface area and it was truly an amazing sight. Next, we learned how to set up a 1x1m unit with a datum point, and measure from the datum point using the “pink string of science” (as Dr. Ahlman puts it), a line level, and our folding ruler. Then we learned how to properly take notes about the site in our notebooks as well as on the CAS forms. We typically dug down in 10cm increments- recording all rocks and artifacts in between levels on plan view maps. We then take the dirt from the unit to the screening station where we sift through it and the screen catches artifacts that we missed while digging. It’s so rewarding to find something in your unit that completely changes the story. This was the first time that Dr. Ahlman found coins at the site, which means that the slaves were actually making money. Even more interestingly, the coin found in our unit was a British coin dating back to 1801~1807, and the one found in Kathleen, Rachel, and Taylor’s unit was a French coin dating to mid- 1600s, which could mean that people had been living in that area for a lot longer than we knew.

The crew adapting to scavenged buckets.
The crew adapting to scavenged buckets.

On the 15th, however, we had a bit of a bad day. We went to the site and noticed that all of our stuff had been stolen- even the dustpans. Also, we had just gotten settled in very nicely the week before with tarps over our units for shade and screens that hung from trees, which actually made screening fun. All of that was gone, and I almost cried. Our awesome group, however, was able to find stuff around the site to use that day and we kept working. We also started bringing our trashcans to use as buckets, and we made it work and finished the site.

Next, Dr. Ahlman taught us how to use a compass and we are now using these skills at our new prehistoric site where we are learning how to do shovel tests. We weren’t able to get much finished on Monday because it rained A LOT, and we even had a rain day today, but I’m hopeful that tomorrow will be sunny (and breezy as well) and we will be able to finish up our work.

Everything has gone very smoothly, I think, for the first couple of weeks, despite one missing team member who didn’t show up. We all get along and work really well together, and Dr. Ahlman and Caitlin are very patient with us. We only have three days left here, and as much as I miss my dog, I’m not ready for this experience to be over. St. Kitts is a beautiful place with rich history. I’m so glad I was able to be a part of this project. You won’t know until you go! Eat. Em. Up. Cats.

Ashley Riddle is a senior majoring in Anthropology at Texas State University.

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