Subject: [Digging the Blues]
John A. Smith
Caribbean Compass Article

Carriacou MuseumSorry to have to inform you of a distressing development in archaeology in Carriacou. I have spent hundreds of hours on digs in Anguilla and the Virgin Islands as well as being actively involved in the historical societies of many islands, and have developed a keen sense of recognizing what might prove to be interesting sites.

Early in May, as a construction site was being prepared in Harvey Vale, I recognized what I believed were shards from an Amerindian burial urn and only limited exploration revealed many carvings and "zemi"-type artifacts. I approached the foreman who told me I had no right to be on the site, and was driven away.

That afternoon the first human skeleton was found. Later that day—after unearthing dozens of bats, zemis, bowls, carved stone axes and clay masks, plus small humanoid carved stone figures—the workers uncovered at a depth of almost 6 feet the clay rings of an "Indian well" almost identical to one discovered some years earlier near the same site. (The landowner in the first case was in a hurry to complete a porch so only seven of the rings were recovered and restored; these are now the centerpiece of the Carriacou Museum.) It seems ironic as well as tragic that no serious attempt has been made to investigate this site on an island notoriously short of water: Before the removal of the circular clay well-head, water began to collect in the center ring—and within hours cement was poured for the construction of a cistern. The owner of the new site is a very "progress"-oriented type person and work must go on. I attempted to save as much as I could and contacted the Historical Societies of Carriacou and Grenada.

Soon a second complete skeleton was uncovered, and the legs of a third. All were at a depth of almost 6 feet and almost the entire site is of fine white sand under the dirt and clay. I am sure there is much to be learned here, but the concrete is being poured and I really don't have the power to even slow progress a little bit. Certain local opinion is that it is none of my business and that all "archaeologists" are in it for the big bucks to be gained selling artifacts. One of the stone human figures described earlier was sold for EC$40 to "a Frenchman." I have asked the fellas to please not loot and sell, or if they must to please allow someone from the Historical Society to photograph the artifacts first.

Cement is being poured daily, but it seems the Historical Society here has embarked upon a mission of attempting to recover those items that were acquired by the laborers. Assuredly many valuable and irreplaceable objects have been removed from the site (one of the skulls has already been vandalized and smashed), but it seems to me to be an example of the analogy of the glass of water. The glass was tipped and some of the contents have been spilt but the glass is surely still more than half full. The primary excavation has necessitated the removal of hundreds of cubic yards of soil to an average depth of 5 feet and the bulk of this soil is still lying around the edges of the excavation.

Would it not seem sensible to further examine this potential trove of artifacts? The piles of dirt surrounding the pits should be thoroughly sifted, and this should be monitored by members of the historical societies. It might even be possible to get some of the students at the local secondary schools and Bishop's College to be involved.

Will cement and re-bar win another round in a place which most certainly represents a unique learning and cultural experience? Most ironic of all—as I walked through this busy construction site, across the empty bags of cement I read the brand name on them: Arawak!

Timothy Duval of the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University in Ontario has contacted me and he feels that the pouring of cement in this case is a good thing, in that future archaeologists will definitely be able to tell what has and has not been disturbed. I have also been in contact with the leaders of the Carib people in Dominica who warn of imminent karmic catastrophe to those who disturb the ancestors' bones without the proper respect.

It may not be too late to salvage something here. Perhaps this represents an opportunity to celebrate Carriacou as a spot that has known human habitation for thousands of years and today continues to be revered as one of the paramount tourist destinations in the Caribbean. If teams of Historical Society members and students and interested people are able to work together to sort through the pile of debris on the site, perhaps a few of the people responsible for the disappearance of artifacts might come forward to return them to the museum, realizing that this represents a grand opportunity for all the people in the Caribbean to put their differences aside and work towards a greater understanding and hopefully a broader tolerance of the many diversities in this grand "Family of Man."

jasmith/Mermaid of Carriacou


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