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Caribbean Colonial Landscapes Research (currently being updated)

Nevis, West Indies

Marco Meniketti, Ph.D.

Land use patterns and the resulting landscapes can be viewed in strictly economic terms, as resource extraction, or we can view them as something deeper and more revealing of cultural practices. Settlement and built landscape are manifestations of systemic beliefs inextricably linked to received ideology--the dialectic between humanity and nature, and between sectors of society--serving in subtle ways to reinforce core beliefs. From the placement of religious structures on high ground to the decision to sacrifice food-provisioning land for commercial expediency, choices regarding the manipulation of the environment offer intriguing interpretive corridors into the worldview and cognitive frameworks of colonial societies. The avenues available to archaeologists in the Caribbean are particularly promising for broader understanding of the forces and social paradigms structuring colonial settlement in the post-contact world because of the short time scale in which they occurred.The Historic Colonial Landscape Project and Colonial Industrial Landscape Project are multi-disciplinary studies exploring the relationship between the changing environment, landscape modifications, and the rise of capitalism as a driving socioeconomic force. To understand this relationship, it is necessary to reconstruct past environments and analyze subsequent changes in the context of changing socioeconomic models. It is also necessary to locate various archaeological sites of different historic periods for comparing spatial organization and spheres of social interaction. As capitalism emerged among the colonies in the Caribbean, there arose a new social system, that gradually supplanted the former system based on a feudal mode of relations. Several social scientists and archaeologists have argued that every social system has a unique signature of spatial organization and socio-spatial dynamics. In turn, it can be suggested that landscape change—the use and organization of space and environment--can be interpreted through the lens of socioeconomic transformation. Discovering how landscapes change can help us better understand the context of human behavior and affects capitalism’s penetration into various sectors of colonial societies.

The Caribbean Legacy Project 2016 field work is complete. The work provided data for two MA thesis projects.

For more information....


Morgan's Village Survey Project recently completed. The report from this project appears as a chapter in a new edited volume on Caribbean Archaeology titled Spaces Between, from University Press of Florida.

(See Field Season 2013 below)

Colonial Industrial Landscape Project

The modern landscape of Nevis is considerably changed from its principal era of sugar production. Despite its apparent lush tropical character, Nevis has suffered significant environmental degradation resulting from untenable agricultural practices dating back at least 300 years. Sugar mill-complexes, and relics of industrial scale sugar production are inescapable across the landscape. Smoke stacks share the skyline with windmill towers even as introduced and invasive plant species cloak the remnants of colonial architecture on the mountain slopes. The Colonial Industrial Landscape Project is focused on defining settlement patterns and the impact of agro-industrialism on environment. For complete story...

2007-2009, 2011 Field Seasons

Bush Hill Project

[This page and links are temporarily disabled as we update]

During July of 2007 and June 2008 teams again assembled to document a late seventeenth century sugar mill-complex located in the vicinity of Montpelier Estate. Several above ground standing features were recorded and multiple test excavation units undertaken. These ruins promise to reveal considerable new information on construction and technological evolution and this year's team encountered a few surprises during excavation.Complete story...

Nevis Lighter Documentation 2001

Published in the International Journal of nautical Archaeology

The maritime heritage of Nevis is rich and varied. But modern systems of transportation have nearly erased the traditional modes for inter-island travel. The last extant Nevisan Sailing lighter is curated at the Horatio Nelson Museum in Charlestown and has recently been subject to scholarly interest. As part of an ongoing research agenda documenting the maritime heritage of the Lesser Antilles, Marco Meniketti documented the vessel during a break in the Landscape Project and has produced a set of lines drawings that will be used in the vessel's restoration. Kieran J. Hackett recently published Of nevis Lighters and Lightermen (Writers Collective, Rhode island) relating the story of the builders and crews who sailed these hard working craft between the islands, carrying market goods and passengers. The Nevis Historical and Conservation Society is raising funds for the preservation and reproduction of this unique vessel type. Lighter report...

2000-2005 Field Season

Using GPS, compass, and machete, a crew of seven from five different universities conducted intensive close-interval survey transects across more than twenty percent of St. Thomas and St. John parishes. More than two dozen unidentified structures dated to the pre emancipation colonial era, including mills, great houses, cisterns, historic roads, wells, and sugar boiling facilities were located and recorded. Our research design enabled investigation within several environmental zones at various elevations, rising from sea-level to over 2000 feet. We also unexpectedly were alerted to a skeleton eroding from the hard-pan matrix of Pinney Beach. The remains were excavated and conserved for future study, and are currently being curated by the NHCS at the Museum of Nevis History. We also conducted limited test excavations at the site of an eighteenth century mill-complex. Complete story...

Caribbean Archaeology

Caribbean frontiers were a crucible for processes in the evolution of European expansion and political/economic domination in the New World. The islands were sites of capitalist and agro-industrial experimentation and one arena in which the social relations of the modern world were forged. By exploring the dimensions of agency and causality of capitalism’s global ascendancy from its inception in the Caribbean we can significantly add to our understanding of the colonization process. But the past is only one aspect of Caribbean research agendas. Today the islands are home to various peoples with vibrant lives and rich heritages as diverse as the environments in which they live. The Caribbean region defies easy definition or categorization. Important research into the many diasporic communities is a challenge. Important work by Michelle Terrel and the seventeenth century Jewish community on Nevis is a case in point. Our own research centers on African slave mariners and sugar laborers. Research agenda..

Port St. George Project .

Field Season 2016 Caribbean Legacy Project

Our 2016 season provided opportunities to conduct historical and prehistorical fieldwork. Our objectives were to fully document the Hamilton estate sugar factory and to recover a crania (along with possible skeleton) at White’s Bay. Two graduate students swerved as field supervisor and crew chief as each carried out thesis work at the White’s Bay site. At the Hamilton site we experimented with drone areal imaging and photogrammetry for building a 3D model. The Hamilton site is mostly clear of over brush and so was an ideal location to trial each of the procedures. Our field crew was mostly comprised of San Jose State students and one graduate student from Florida (a former SJSU student) who carried out extensive archival work at the museum. Thanks to the NHCS and Ministry of Education, we were able to carry out two demonstration drone flights at local elementary schools. The children were provided goggles and “flew” virtually over their schools!

Field Season 2013 Morgan's Village, Nevis

The period immediately following emancipation is rarely studied and not well documented in the Caribbean. The Morgan’s Village site promised to offer insights into the period between 1833 when the “apprentice period” ended and the 1870s as new economic and social relationships were negotiated, coalesced, and were mediated by global events. To our surprise what we encountered instead was a village that seems to have been abandoned soon after emancipation, suggesting a dynamic not previously appreciated.

Complete story...

Field Season 2015

During the summer of 2015 a small team traveled to Nevis for a rapid assessment of two potential archaeological field school sites. The team briefly documented the Hamilton estate site and conducted reconnaissance in the White’s Bay area where we had recovered a skeleton in 2012. A crania was found eroding out of the shore midden. It was recorded and covered with beach debris to protect it from damage by feral donkeys nearby. A proposal to recover the skull will be submitted to the NHCS. We believe it may have an associated skeleton. The Hamilton site has great promises as a heritage tourism site. The standing architecture is impressive. A proposal will be submitted to the NHCS to document the site using new technologies.











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