Texas State Field School in St. Kitts — A Wrap-Up Post

by Todd Ahlman

Ceramic Artifacts from St. Kitts

Ceramic Artifacts from St. Kitts

If you have been following CAS’s PAST Posts, CAS’s social media, and the Texas State in St. Kitts Archaeological Project, you probably saw the series of blog entries in June written by the archaeological field school students participating in the project on St. Kitts.

We completed the field work at the end of June and washed, analyzed, and packed for curation the bulk of the artifacts we recovered before we left St. Kitts. The project was a great success. The students learned necessary archaeological skills, and we were able to recover a tremendous amount of information about the history of St. Kitts. This final blog entry on the project is meant to wrap up the project and give some glimpses into the things we found during our stay on the island.

The field school included five students from Texas State University, a graduate teaching assistant, and me. We were in the field and laboratory from June 3, 2015 to June 25, 2015. We investigated two sites on the southeast peninsula: Site 1 and Site 12. Ten 1-by- 1-meter excavation units at Site 1 and twenty shovel test pits were excavated at Site 12. Members of the St. Christopher National Trust visited the sites June 22, 23, and 26. We gave our visitors personal tours of our investigations and informed them about the preliminary findings. Below is a brief summary of the results with the caveat that interpretations of the findings may change over time.

Ceramic Artifacts from St. Kitts

Ceramic Artifacts from St. Kitts

Site 1 is a former slave village. Previous investigations showed this site to have significant information relating to enslaved African occupations dating from the mid-eighteenth century to the early-nineteenth century. This year we continued examining two structure locations identified in the previous investigations. A total of 12,349 artifacts were recovered from the 10 excavation units. This was a significant number of artifacts and we were able to analyze all of them while on the island. Our preliminary interpretations of the results suggest that this slave village was first occupied in the late Seventeenth Century when the southeast peninsula was occupied by the French. The site appears to have been continuously occupied into the post-emancipation era and was abandoned around 1854. These investigations are the first on St. Kitts to conclusively identify enslaved African deposits relating to the French occupation of the island as well as study material remains of post-emancipation Kittitians. It is too early to make broad statements about the findings, but I suspect that we have a significant amount of data that will help us better understand the lives of enslaved and freed Africans on St. Kitts.

Site 12 is a pre-Columbian site that was identified in the 1970s. Little is known about the site other than it is a ceramic-era occupation. Because of the site’s location and the fact we know little about the site’s content, we decided the best course of investigation was to excavate shovel test pits (30- centimeter diameter holes with the soil screened) at 10-meter intervals. We recovered 43 artifacts from the shovel test pits, but only 11 of those were pre-Columbian in nature. It appears that the site is located on an active sand dune that is continually shifting as well as being impacted by recreational users, which means that the site is heavily damaged and does not retain sufficient integrity for further research.

Glass Artifacts from St. Kitts Field School

Glass Artifacts from St. Kitts Field School

The bulk of the artifacts were prepared according to standard curation procedures and left on St. Kitts. Although we were able to perform analyses of the artifacts while in St. Kitts, there is still much to be learned from this collection. To that end, we are in the process of requesting permission from the Department of Physical Planning to return 1,090 sherds of locally made pottery and 50 pieces of chert to Texas State University for additional in-depth analyses that we could not complete on- island. The locally made pottery and chert artifacts were left with Cameron Gill, General Manager of the Brimstone Hill Fortress, who has graciously offered to assist our efforts in obtaining permission from the Department of Physical Planning to return the artifacts to Texas State University. We plan to ask for a two-year timeframe to conduct the additional analyses. Once the analyses are complete, all artifacts will be returned to St. Kitts.

Where do we go from here? First we will immediately begin working on a technical report of the investigations that will help us meet our requirements set forth from the Christophe Harbour Foundation, which funded the bulk of the project. The next step is to prepare a less technical version of the report that will be more accessible to the general public. We also plan to coordinate with Christophe Harbour and the Christophe Harbour Foundation to develop an interpretive display that could be installed with Christophr Harbour and/or the National Museum.

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.