Salt Cay: Archaeology on the Island that Time Forgot

Project type: Expedition
Dates: 6 – 16 March, 2020
Project language: English
Minimum age: 18

About the project and the island

Salt Cay is a tiny, off the beaten path island in the Turks & Caicos Islands. While nowadays it houses less than 100 people, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the island was economically very important due to the production of high-quality salt. As a result, the island is littered with unexplored archaeological sites.

We are organizing an archaeological expedition to this fascinating island, from March 6-16, 2020. As this trip is exploratory in nature, the group size is limited to just 5 participants. The program starts in Grand Turk, where we will gather all the necessary supplies for our stay on Salt Cay. We then take a boat for the 45-minute crossing to Salt Cay.

During the project we will explore and document archaeological sites on Salt Cay and adjacent islands, including the uninhabited island of Cotton Cay. In addition, we will survey and document shipwrecks and other archaeological sites in the surrounding waters. Participants will be completely immersed in the island’s history and archaeology.

The exact schedule and activities are dependent on weather and practical matters, but we plan to do the following: Coring the historic salt pans on Salt Cay and Cotton Cay in order to make a vegetation reconstruction; documenting archaeological sites on Salt Cay and Cotton Cay (including aerial mapping); detailed mapping of the wrecks of the HMS Endymion and the General Pershing, and surrounding areas; detailed mapping of a wooden shipwreck off the North Beach; survey of the historical anchorage area and maritime structures at the White House; looking for new archaeological sites on land as well as under water at certain locations.

The water activities can be divided into diving and snorkeling tasks, so this program is suitable for both certified divers and people who are not dive certified. All underwater archaeological research will be conducted in shallow water, therefore tasks can be divided between SCUBA divers and snorkelers.

Participants will have the opportunity to use drones for aerial surveys and underwater camera equipment for documenting submerged sites. Data processing will be done each day at the White House (see below).

In addition, we will also offer a whale watching trip by boat during which we may be able to snorkel with the whales. Early March is the peak of humpback whale season so we expect a lot of whale action!

The Expedition

The expedition will comprise a 10-day program focused on the exploration of remote archaeological sites on land as well as under water, for a total of 90 hours of fieldwork, lectures, and data processing. The expedition includes the following components:

Underwater fieldwork

  • Surveying techniques
  • Underwater photography and videography
  • Photogrammetry and photomosaics
  • Site reporting
  • Recording cannons and anchors
  • Recording timbers

Terrestrial fieldwork

  • Coring the historic salt pans
  • Aerial (drone) surveys
  • Walking surveys to discover new sites

In the lab

  • Processing of fieldwork data
  • Processing of coring samples
  • Editing photos, videos, and 3D models


  • History of Salt Cay
  • Dive safety briefing
  • Underwater documentation
  • Underwater photography and videography
  • Documenting cannons and anchors in their context

Tours and excursions

  • Humpback whale watching and snorkeling trip


Accommodation will be at the White House, a beautiful early 19th-century building on the island’s west coast. It is conveniently located within walking distance of both the northern and southern parts of town. It is an old building with a rich history, and therefore a unique place to stay. That also means that living conditions are not luxurious and some aspects are a bit basic. The house features an indoor and outdoor shower, two toilets, a fully-equipped kitchen, and we will try to arrange a wifi router. There are 3 bedrooms available to us, so 2 people per bedroom. The house has a very spacious patio that’s great to enjoy a cold beer and watch the sunset.


We believe that good food is key to a successful and productive project. Food will be provided for the duration of the project. Breakfasts will consist of eggs, sandwiches, cereal, yogurt, and fruit. Lunches and dinners will be had at one of the restaurants on the island. These are famous for their delicious local seafood.


  • Participants who wish to partake in SCUBA diving are required to be certified scuba divers and hold at least a PADI Open Water certificate or equivalent certification from another agency. There are no specific requirements for those who join as snorkelers.


The total course fee is USD 3,300. This includes:

  • 10 nights accommodation on Salt Cay
  • Food based on three meals per day
  • Transfer from Grand Turk to Salt Cay and back by boat
  • Transportation while on Salt Cay
  • All training, presentations, and workshops
  • All diving activities
  • Full dive equipment rental
  • Excursions
  • Park fees

How to apply

Because of the remote nature of this expedition, it is limited to only 5 participants. Our programs tend to fill up quickly so it is advised to apply as far in advance as possible. An application form can be downloaded here, and once filled out, emailed to Once the application form is received, we will send you the payment instructions for a deposit to reserve your spot.

How to get here

Getting to the Turks & Caicos Islands is easy. You can fly into the main island of Providenciales (Provo) daily from major US airports such as Atlanta, Miami, and Charlotte. From Provo, it is a short flight into Grand Turk, where we will take the boat to Salt Cay.


The expedition is carried out in cooperation with the Turks & Caicos National Museum.