The 2022 Field Season revisited previously excavated sites associated with enslaved laborers in the hope that environmental and faunal data related to past dietary practices could be collected. One of our graduate students returned to finish up research on the traditional pottery of Nevis. Her video documentary project was initiated in 2019, but she was forced to wait until after the worst of the Covid pandemic had passed for returning to the island. The team was comprised of four graduate students, three undergraduates, and one volunteer “rocket scientist.” Together we carried out work at Morgan’s Village, Bush Hill, and Montpellier. Brenna and Lindsley, both graduate students at SJSU, were experienced zooarchaeologists, and provided guidance in faunal collection and analysis. Soils proved to be much too acidic for good preservation. One highlight of the project was an invitation form the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society to attend the unveiling of a new Alexander Hamilton statue erected in front of the Nevis Culture and History Museum. Additional activities included soaking in the hot mineral baths, the ever popular pirate night, and the Water Department BBQ.
Nevis 2019 field results
2019 Bush Hill Southern Survey Some places are understood as having been important focal points of historical events and long-term cultural or social change. Some places may be deemed important historically, but are insignificant on the modern world stage, such as a battlefield. Others places, thought unimportant in their historic period can be recognized in hindsight as having been critical in historical developments. Such places can be framed as pivotal places where events or the actions of historical agents in the course of daily life set in motion social or cultural forces that had significant impact on the broad themes of historical trajectories. Nevis is one such pivotal place, and on Nevis there are sites that were at the center of important historical junctures.
Bush Hill sugar plantation was a pivotal place, and played an important role through interactions with other estates, in the rise of capitalism and the maintenance of a system of coerced labor. From previous research at the site, we know that Bush Hill operated from as early as 1680, and likely is associated with Col. Stapleton, one of the early Governors of Nevis. Through various owners and under different names, the fortunes of Bush Hill ebbed and flowed with rise and decline of Nevis as a vital component of the British sugar colonies. The 2019 field study is designed to expand on prior work at Bush Hill to inform on the pivotal place hypothesis developed by Dr. Meniketti by linking the estate to the greater colonial period landscape. In the process we hope address three questions: A. What was the linkage between Bush Hill and the estates of Coxheath and Montpelier? B. Where did the laborers of Bush Hill reside on the landscape? C. Can the full extent of Bush Hill be determined from the landscape in the absence of a complete documentary record?
Nevis 2016 field results
Caribbean Legacy Project 2016 Students participating in the 2016 Field School on Nevis had the opportunity to contribute to both historical and prehistorical archaeological projects. Marissa supervised excavation of the burials which will be used in her thesis project while Erika managed the geoarchaeological data recovery to be used in her thesis.
Nevis 2013 field Results.
Morgan Village Project 2013
A map drawn in 1871 by Alexander Burke Iles, indicates three post-emancipation African Villages. One was known to have been occupied up until the 1950s, the others were more obscure. Landscape survey carried out in 2004 located what may have been the site of Morgan’s Village and surface artifacts suggested a strong pre-emancipation component. No further work was conducted. During the Field School season of 2011 at Bush Hill a follow-up survey was conducted simply to check on the status of the various village sites. To our dismay we learned that two of the sites; Vaughns and Harpies had been graded and developed. Only the site of Morgan’s remained and it was also subject to new construction. We determined that some measure of documentation was necessary before this site was lost. In our estimation the Morgan’s site represented an important period on Nevis history; the transitional phase from colonial slave-base plantations to an economy with free labor and a free citizenry. This was a period of change and nascent post-colonialism that set the stage for emergent Nevisian identity. The Morgan’s site is at 985 feet elevation on the western side of Mt Nevis and associated with the Morgan Estate. The Morgan Estate land is privately owned and was not included in our survey. The owners of homes immediately adjacent to the site graciously permitted our crew to visually survey their land and for this we are sincerely grateful, as it added to our understanding of the landscape dynamics of the village location.
The Morgan’s Village Project had two principal goals. The first was to conduct a close interval survey of the area suspected as the site of the historic village. The second operational goal was to carry out systematic subsurface testing to establish site integrity, depth and to recover diagnostic artifacts. Both of these goals were achieved owing to the hardworking and dedicated crew who found themselves occasionally excavating in the rain or surveying in such dense brush that team members could barely see one another. The rain turned excavation units into mud pools. When the sun came out the resulting humidity combined with the normal high temperatures contributed to our pleasure. Vervet monkeys were constantly on site to observe. Our first season yielded some surprising findings. Two historic roads were located bisecting the site, each heavily overgrown but with stacked dry-stone walls still in place. Several terraces on the steeply sloped hill where the site was situated supported low walls, stone house platforms and rectangular dry-stone foundations. Artifacts on the surface and those recovered from nine excavation units were almost uniformly early types. Although analysis is preliminary at this point, the majority have mean manufacturing dates pre 1800. Pipe stems, bottle bases, and especially lead glazed yellow and brown slip decorated wares, some Staffordshire wares, and Rhenish stoneware vessels all point to the late 1700s. Where was the post-emancipation component? The Iles map had suggested an active village as late as 1871, yet we could not find any trace of it. Had the village relocated after emancipation? Was anyone still living at this site mid-nineteenth century? More work need to be done to answer these questions, but we have clearly encountered a pre-emancipation community.In all we recovered several hundred ceramic and glass artifacts, a few dozen pipe stems, a cane hoe, and a few unusual items still being evaluated.
Nevis 2011 & 2012 Field Results and Follow Through.
Forensic recovery 2011-2012
The 2011 Field School was recognized by The Register Of Professional Archaeologists as one of the three top field schools in the country and as a result a scholarship was awarded to student Chris Keith. Chris went on to earn the San Jose State University Thesis of The Year Award for his work on Nevis in 2012. Our 2012 field season was short but productive as the team successfully excavated the skeletal remains of a prehistoric indigenous Carib individual associated with the skull discovered and rescued last summer. The initial analysis carried out last year by Cathy and Claire, although inconclusive, provided a base for the forensic team assembled for 2012.Radiometric dating suggested the skull was 1000 years of age (we really would like to get another date to confirm this) and so we were eager to collect the remainder of the skeleton. The forensic team was led by Chris, assisted by Esmirna, Merhan, Lisa, Dane, and Dr. Meniketti. In addition to this skeleton, an additional two were encountered as surface scatter and a few samples were collected. We are grateful to Dr. Mankoff and the faculty at the Medical University of the Americas on Nevis for their generous support in providing space in the anatomy lab for Chris, Esmirna and Merhan to conduct their analysis. Our team had the opportunity to discuss the finds with faculty and students. DNA analysis is anticipated through the National Geographic Laboratory and we are appreciative that this was arranged by faculty at the MUA.
The 2009 field season was successfully completed with several interesting and unexpected new discoveries at the Bush Hill site. Among the finds were subsurface features and foundation walls suggesting earlier buildings. Additional features were found in the brush behind the “great house,” (probably a water purifier) and the trough –like structure found in the previous year was exposed for an additional several meters without finding where it ends! Extensive excavation was undertaken at within three structures which had received minimal attention until this season. The southern feature which had been suspected of being a blacksmith shop yielded numerous clues in support as a result of trenching across the central section. Colonoware, iron scraps, slag and heavy charcoal deposits represent a few of the finds. Sad to say, many of the buttress walls and buildings have continued to suffer from stone robbing, especially corner and arch stones. The facing wall of the engine house has been completely damaged. We discovered a new truck path on to the site that led directly to the kitchen and servant quarters. One wall has been pulled down. An additional 12 excavation units were completed this year bringing the total to 35 units on the site. The site map was refined while Val directed different groups of students on the transit survey to extend the map north an added 25 meters. This was again tough going through the dense brush. Artifacts collected this year included the usual imported ceramics, but also several new items including, musket balls, door hardware, onion bottle fragments. In addition, several Carib ceramics were sampled during a coastal survey. These will be subjected to X-ray fluorescence trace element analysis in the archaeology lab. In addition to work at Bush Hill, students documented three high elevation structures in St George Parish recently discovered by mountain guide Jim Johnson. Two of these are most likely 17th century sugar mill works and one is a real puzzle—although a hurricane house has been suggested. One of the sugar works has a large, intact, animal mill. Students had to hike considerable distance through the rain-forest to reach these sites which are heavily overgrown. Because of their remote and inaccessible location they appear to have survived the looting of dressed stone so common to other mill sites.
Twelve SJSU students participated in the 2008 field school. We had a full-house. Conditions at the site were greatly altered since our previous season. Drought has contributed to die-back of vegetation so many of the structures were easy to access and new discoveries were made. the downside of this is that the site has become vulnerable to looting. In fact, several structures had been robbed of stone. Our documentation of the site has been made that much more critical in the face of future destruction.
One could not have asked for a better field season in 2007. We set for ourselves a list of 21 goals and achieved 15 of the tasks. The Bush Hill site was carefully mapped using both a GPS and transit survey to an accuracy of ten centimeters. We nearly completed the site grid and in the process discovered two additional structures on the site that were previously undetected owing to the thick brush. The field crew also produced measured drawings of five standing structures. Completion of site survey will have to wait until 2008.
The site was covered in dense vegetation and required clearing. Project supervisor Ed Tennant directed students in clearing and use of GPS. Twelve test units were excavated by the crew during the project. These were non-random, probabilistic samples at specific points on the site grid intended for the collection of data relevant to specific structures. Units also served to test site depth and to provide students with the experience of site excavation. Additionally, the test units acted as models for instruction on recording unit profiles, provenience control, and triangulation with transit. The data gathered was, nevertheless, of great significance as domestic artifacts, industrial debitage, and items of everyday use on a plantation were recovered. Many of these materials are being analyzed by new archaeology in the lab at SJSU. Except for the dozens of burrowing tarantulas that inhabit the site, there were few surprises...
In the afternoons and during lab days students cleaned, illustrated, and described artifacts. Our field headquarters at Pond Hill is a perfect place for this activity. Cataloged artifacts were bagged and boxed for curation. The non-field days also were maintenance days for screen repairs, sharpening machetes, equipment inventory and house cleaning. Students learn that quickly that keeping the house in order is as important as anything else we do in the field. Twice each week student sat in on lectures after dinner. Lecture topics included Caribbean history, artifact interpretation, and a detailed discussion of the Vervet monkeys on Nevis and St Kitts.2007
Fieldwork this summer was focused on four chief objectives. The first of these was to conduct test excavations at a sugar boiling facility dating from the early phases of sugar production in the late seventeenth century.The age determination was based on comparative architecture and a limited number of small finds.The site provided numerous new clues to its date and evidence for having been modified over time to both accommodate new technologies. It is possible the complex was changed in order to remain a viable operation in the face of changing economic circumstances during the eighteenth century. Pictured above is the scene (and the conditions in which the team worked) at the location of the small mill and production structures. Even when directed by GPS the site was difficult to relocate.
The second objective of the 2005 season involved completing the documentation of the Ridge structures, discovered during the 2002 survey season and recorded by a crew in 2003. The field team not only completed measured drawings of additional walls, but also trenched across the floor of the boiling house. This revealed further unanticipated modifications of the structure. Analysis is not complete but preliminary we have to suggest that at some point the function of the building was radically changed from sugar production to possibly cotton processing, and finally altered again for storage or perhaps as a residence. Our third goal involved correcting measurements of a few structures previously documented, for which field notes from 2003 exhibited discrepancies. Finally, it was our intention to examine the skeleton recovered from Pinney Beach in 2003. We had been limited by time during the 2003 season and lacked sufficient expertise on the staff to arrive at reliable conclusions. The remains had been carefully inventoried, conserved, and stored. We considered this unfinished business. This season we had on our team a specialist who concentrated her time on analysis of the skeletal remains for nearly two weeks. Her final report will be added to this site once completed.