Bajan Excavation

The students working at St. Nicholas Abbey during the 2015 field season.

The students working at St. Nicholas Abbey during the 2015 field season.

Regardless of how organized and scientific archaeological field seasons are, they always seem to be an adventure. Rather unexpectedly, there were several small earthquakes and the island was put under a code orange alert for an volcano eruption. Everything was fine and nothing major happened on the island, but it definitely added a bit of drama to the work week! Despite this, the past two weeks have been spent practicing proper archaeological techniques and skills, continuing our excavation at St. Nicholas Abbey, and touring the island.

One of the main reasons I came to Barbados this summer was to serve as Professor Frederick Smith’s teaching assistant. Professor Smith has been bringing students to work at the Abbey for several years and this summer, seven students from William and Mary are working at the site. These students are majoring in many different fields-from neuroscience to religious studies- and it is their first time working on an archaeological site, so I have spent the past few weeks teaching the students how to excavate, identify, and catalogue artifacts.

At the Abbey, we began by teaching the students how to set up an area for excavation. Currently, we have opened a 2x2m unit and a 2x3m unit on the site and given each of the students their own 1x1m area to excavate. Excavating in a forest, the students have had to deal with a significant number of roots that could not be removed as well as a significant quantity of small boulders. The students all learned how to successfully navigate these obstacles while following the complicated stratigraphy and keeping their floors flat within the units. This process of excavation has allowed the students to find artifacts and note any potential features (post holes, cellars, wells, etc.) in their units.

Students working together to excavate a particularly difficult unit.

Students working together to excavate a particularly difficult unit.

In the process of excavating, the students have uncovered hundreds of artifacts. I have been working with the group to help teach them how to distinguish between different types of ceramics (earthenwares, stonewares, refined earthenwares), fragments of iron (nails, horse furniture, hinges), between coral and bone, and tobacco pipes and bowls. This process has enabled the students to learn how to roughly date the age of the site and to be be able to sort and catalogue the artifacts. Since excavation on this site will likely continue in the following years, this information will help Professor Smith keep a record of the materials uncovered during the 2015 field season, to understand the site, and determine the best way to proceed.

Students working in the field to catalogue artifacts.

Students working in the field to catalogue artifacts.

By actively participating in the entire excavation process- from laying out the units to cataloguing and mapping features- the students have not only been able to participate in the entire archaeological process of excavation, but also been able to draw their own conclusions about the use of the site. The presence of several stratigraphic layers and a couple of features makes this site incredibly complicated and since these units are rather small, our picture of what happened on this site is rather narrow. These complications have given the students a fantastic opportunity to practice studying the archaeological record and experience how difficult it is to interpret the past.

Students waiting for the local bus to pick them up from the Abbey.

Students waiting for the local bus to pick them up from the Abbey.

This month long experience has also given the students a wonderful opportunity to not only travel around the island, but also experience Bajan culture by taking local busses, eating local food (including the macaroni pie and flying fish), and going to several Crop-Over events. Additionally, living on the campus of the University of the West Indies has allowed the students to meet local students and watch and learn new activities, like cricket and road tennis.

Even though Barbados is considered to be a tourist destination, living and working on this island for a month has allowed the group to see many different aspects of Barbados. It has allowed us to uncover Bajan history and experience the island’s culture. For questions regarding the study abroad program, please visit the William and Mary website and for questions concerning the excavation at St. Nicholas Abbey please contact me at eascholz@email.wm.edu.