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Research Questions

Research Questions

Project team conducting GPR survey of the cemetery.
Project team conducting GPR survey of the cemetery.

Through the scientific study of archaeological, forensic archaeological, historical, and geospatial data, students will gain a better understanding of how individuals, families, communities, and governments shaped the natural and built environment and developed strategies through consumer purchases and social networks to respond to globalization and colonialism. The examination of globalism and colonialism is best done through multiple lines of evidence because different segments of society used varying strategies. Therefore, we plan to integrate data from plantation, slave, institutional, and military sites to develop an informed narrative on past human activities on Statia. Overall, our project will expose students developing a scientific research program that employs multiple lines of evidence, resulting in informed conclusions.

Most Caribbean archaeological studies have examined plantation, slave, institutional, and military sites as separate elements without taking into account how these components of colonial society interacted with and impacted each other. While each student’s research design will focus on an individual aspect of colonial society during the field and laboratory sessions, we will work with them during and after the project to synthesize data from multiple sources to create broader contextual analyses and narratives.

The REU Site will focus on five sites: a sugar plantation, the Waterfort/Ft. Amsterdam, Battery Rotterdam, a cemetery, and the Lazaretto leper asylum/poor house and cemetery. These sites provide a multitude of scientific research avenues for undergraduate students to examine globalization and colonialism within plantation, slave, institutional, and military contexts. More specifically, our research aims to examine:

  1. the lifeways of and social inequalities among Europeans and enslaved and freed Africans through the examination of material culture and structural evidence;
  2. the Waterfort/Ft. Amsterdam as a military outpost that also served as a location where enslaved Africans were held before auction by the Dutch West Indies Company (Slave Depot);
  3. how military sites on a small island compare to contemporaneous military forts on larger and more sugar intensive islands;
  4. how social inequalities among Europeans and enslaved and freed Africans are manifested in burial contexts and skeletal biology from interments in the Godet and Lazaretto cemeteries; and
  5. the lifeways and treatment of people infected with Hansen’s disease (leprosy).

These broad research avenues allow our team to develop individualized scientific research projects that investigate the effects of globalization and colonialism on individuals, families, and communities and how these groups shaped their natural, built, and social environments. The research from this project will contribute to broader scientific studies of capitalism, the African Diaspora, health, and evolutionary strategies as well as Statia’s role in American history. Archaeology, by nature, is a multidisciplinary science that melds together aspects of anthropology, history, geography, geology, economics, chemistry, biology, physics, and numerous other sciences. The project mentors will work with program participants to develop research projects that incorporate two or more of these different disciplines.

Examining the material culture of European overseers and planters, enslaved and freed Africans, military officers and enlisted men, and lepers individually has provided archaeologists with significant information on consumer culture. Archaeologist Paul Mullins (2004, 2011) has noted that archaeologists use consumerism and mass consumption to identify and describe ethnic identity, socioeconomic status, social inequalities, and consumer culture. After 1700, people in the Caribbean acquired vast quantities of commercial products, and because Statia served as a free-port, we anticipate a wide variety of material culture from Dutch, English, French, and other sources. Cross group comparisons have been rare yet significant in their findings. There are many similarities in the Brimstone Hill Fortress assemblage when comparison with assemblages from sugar plantations, and some enslaved African assemblages have more expensive ceramics than the British officers.

Human burials provide a unique opportunity to learn about an individual’s life and death by integrating analyses of the contextual evidence and the human remains. As purposefully created features, human burials convey information about an individual’s status and role in the living community as well as religious or ritual beliefs held by a society; interpretations can be based on location, energy expenditure, mortuary treatment, body position, and artifacts, if present. The human skeleton can be analyzed to estimate the biological profile and assess indicators for both childhood and adult health and trauma experienced prior to death. In some cases, disease or trauma that caused death can be identified from the skeleton. Once individual burials are understood through combining the mortuary context and the skeletal biology, aggregated data from burials across a cemetery can be analyzed to test hypotheses about aspects of the living community, including social structure and belief systems. Comparisons across and between cemeteries can reveal social inequalities, ethnic identities, diachronic change, and deviations from normative burial practices, especially in cases of disease epidemics or very high mortality rates.

The 2018 REU Site will focus on the archaeology of the Waterfort/Ft. Amsterdam and the forensic archaeology of a nearby cemetery.

The Waterfort/Ft. Amsterdam (Waterfort) served as a military installation on Oranje Bay’s from the 1680s to approximately 1720 (Howard 1991). After Fort Oranje was built on the clifftops to protect Oranje Bay, the Waterfort was converted to a facility that held enslaved Africans upon arrival to Statia, and was called the Slave Depot. For this purpose, barracks within the Waterfort were converted and expanded in 1724 or 1726 to house enslaved Africans brought to the island for auction by the Dutch West Indies Company. As many as 400 to 500 enslaved Africans were held in the barracks at any time during the height of the slave trade. After 1740 the slave trade through Statia declined, and the fort reverted to military purposes and went through episodic periods of decline and refurbishment over the next 70-plus years. Recent archaeological investigations north of the Waterfort has found materials dating to the eighteenth century, including materials that may date to the Slave Depot period (SECAR 2017). Battery Rotterdam is a much smaller military installation on a hill above the Waterfort including a small barracks and a parapet. Recent archaeological testing around the fort has recovered numerous artifacts dating to before the 1840s (SECAR 2017). The study of military sites in the Caribbean over the past 20 years has focused on British installations on St. Kitts, Dominica, and Jamaica, and looked at the lives of military officers and enlisted men and enslaved Africans who lived and worked at the forts. The Waterfort and Battery Rotterdam provide a counterpoint to these studies by examining smaller facilities and will be the only known archaeological investigations of a site in the Caribbean where enslaved Africans were held before they were auctioned to planters.

A cemetery is located in the seawall north of the Waterfort. Nine partial burials were salvaged from the eroding bank in 2012 (Morsink 2012) and additional partial burials were identified in 2017. The human remains indicated that the interred individuals include people of both European and African descent as well as the possible presence of pre-Columbian Amerindians. There are portions of at least 15 burials remaining within the known cemetery. Geophysical survey of a flat area between the cemetery and the Waterfort suggests there are additional burials that will be excavated. The previously salvaged partial burials will be included in our study. This cemetery will provide significant information on African-European relations, the health of Africans and Europeans, and treatment in death.