Archeologists from around the Caribbean and Europe gathered Monday for the opening of the International Association for Caribbean Archeology Congress, held for the first time in the territory, with a focus on youth participation.
David Hayes, of the St. Croix Archeological Society and organizer of the event, said more than 140 archeologists from 20 Caribbean nations as well as France, England, Holland, Denmark, Canada and the United States will participate in the five-day event.
“This is a forum for the discussion of Caribbean archeology and history and the conservation of built environment,” Hayes said.
More than 100 papers will be delivered by professional and amateur archeologists about historical sites, digs, artifacts and the lives of early Caribbean populations. Topics will include mortuary practices in Cuba, archeology in the Florida Keys and a new archaic site on Montserrat.
On Monday, the youngest presenters were high school students from Saba and St. Martin who described their projects with the same professionalism and maturity expected from scientists twice their age. Both groups, SIMARC and SABARC, are community organizations, supported in part by their governments. They conduct excavations and collect and preserve artifacts and educate their communities.
The St. Martin group, SIMARC, operates under the guidance of Jay Haviser, president of the International Association for Caribbean Archeology, and is the official depository for artifacts collected on the island. Soma Persaud and Tisiana Hart, representing about 20 SIMARC members, described a cannon repair project, a five-day excavation of plantation ruins and an annual tree-planting day.
The SABARC, from Saba, have an office, lab, an artifact storage room and display area at the Saba Heritage Center. Donald Hassell and Hylke van der Velde, two of the eight members from the island, talked about an excavation on a 17th century homestead, a sugar-boiling house and two 4,000 year old Amerindian sites.
Hart told the audience that goals for both organizations include signage for important heritage sites, studying grave headstones on both islands, interviewing elders about culture, and networking throughout the Caribbean.
Haviser founded both student groups and another on Bonaire in 2003. He recruits students between 14 and 18 “because it’s a decision-making period regarding their careers.” He said about half of the youth have pursued careers in science and one former student, now graduated from college, is designated to replace Haviser as SIMARC director.
Another project promoting youth involvement in the sciences was described by Ayana Flewellen and Justin Dunnavant, of the Estate Little Princess Archeological Field School on St. Croix. Earlier this year, they enlisted a dozen teen members of the Boys and Girls Club for the Junior Scientists of the Sea program. The students learned to scuba dive and dig artifacts at the Nature Conservancy’s ruins. The program will continue with the young scientists participating in a coral restoration project, they said.
On Monday, presenters from Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Anguilla, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Guadeloupe talked about their projects, which were translated into Spanish, French and English as they spoke.
Topics for discussion over the conference’s next four days were scheduled to include climate change, cultural resource management, settlement patterns, historical archeology and pre-colonial archeology. The sessions held in the conference room on the lower level of the Divi Casino begin at 8 a.m. and are open to the public.
In addition to 15-minute presentations, the archeologists will visit Salt River Wednesday afternoon and tour Christiansted, the St. George Botanical Garden and the Cruzan Rum Distillery. There will be Government House and Ft. Christianvaern receptions.
Haviser described the IACA as an inclusive rather than exclusive group. Not only are young people encouraged, but also very few papers have ever been excluded from a congress. Approximately five percent of the submissions to the Congress, held every two years, are from amateurs.
Haviser complemented Hayes on the organization of the congress and said it was appropriate that it was held on St. Croix during the bicentennial.