2005 Field Season Results

Hot, Humid, and Lush

Season objectives

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 loaction of the small mill and production structures. Even when directed by GPS the site was difficult to relocate. These agave plants stand six feet with many even taller. Thick vines enveloped the entire structure. Compare the color tone of the pictures shown here with images from earlier seasons. The contrast between drought and non-drought years is evident.

Pictured at right are Peter Lihatsh fromVermont and Casey Hanson (Texas A&M) excavating along the wall of the former boiling train or bench. This site is located in lower St John Parish. The masonry face shown here was originally an exterior wall but had been enclosed to form a new room. Fill and mortar had been used to create a new floor level that fully covered the orriginal arched clean-out beneath the fireboxes. The fire boxes were filled in with stone and mortar. The alignment of the boiling bench was not along a north-south axis but appears to have been oriented to take advantage of prevailing winds.

The second objective of the 2005 season iinvolved 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 preliminarily 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.

Unfinished business

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. For our preliminary results see the skeleton page elsewhere on this site.

 

Modified sugar production facility. Ridge Complex

Pictured above are Jonathan Rider (University of Nottingham) Beth Houpt (University of Wisconsin) and Casey Hanson (Texas A&M) at work on the trench across the boiling room interior of the Ridge mill-complex. The complex itself was difficult to reach despite having exact GPS coordinates. The first day to the site demanded exhausting clearing with machette and path cutting.

Jonathan Rider (Nottingham) and Annette Doying (University of Florida) are shown here opening a unit along the exterior wall of the residential structure associated with the ridge mill-complex. This unit revealed impportant information concerning how the structure was built and the surrounding terrain modified to accommodate the building.

Not long after returing to the states, Annette spent considerable time in a rescue team in Missiissippi following the devastation of hurricane Katarina. Annette is an EMT. Her stories of the plight of hurrican victims in regions that received little press coverage are heart wrenching.

Shown here is the trench across the boiling room of the Ridge mill-complex in progress. The trench across the boiling room of the Ridge mill-complex exposed a downward sloping mortared floor ending at a masonry trough. The trough was carefully constructed of cut stone and mortar. As luck would have it we uncovered its terminal end and so were able to reveal three sides as well as the floor level. A tree was growing from the depression in the floor and as this provided considerable stability to the section we left it in place. The trough had been filled with loose rubble and large stones (pictured in foreground). The floor level of mortar and gravel was 54 cm below the masonry edge. Where we had expected to find evidence of sugar boiling, if not coppers, we instead had a mystery. That the original function of the building had changed was clear from other features, but what new purpose had it been made to serve? One suggestion is cotton processing. A longitudinal trench would have been required for machinery . Yet the floor would not have been level. The mortar floor sloped down to meet the masonry edges of the trough. Had the room been used to collect mollasses draining from hogsheads stored above on racks? Could this trough have held a large iron vat slavged long ago? More work needs to be carried out at this site to make arrive at a convincing conclusion.
The most common artifact of the sugar industry extant on Nevis are the "coppers" or boiling cauldrons used for reducing the cane juice to syrup. Thecauldrons were probably not made from copper after the middle of the seventeenth century. The examples shown here are of iron and are of two types. The copppe at the left is bowl shaped with a rounded bottom. the lip is beveled to fit into a circular masonry opening in the boiling train. A boiling train would have four or more of decreasing size. The example at the rigght is strait sided and has a more or less flat bottom. The upper lip is a band of iron that is also straight sided. Both are on the grounds of Montpelier House.

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