Underwater Archaeology on St. Eustatius – The Caribbean’s Historic Gem

Project type: Field school
Dates: 11 – 24 July, 2019
Project language: English
Minimum age: 18

About the project and the island

St. Eustatius, a tiny island in the northeastern Caribbean, was the busiest port in the Americas in the late eighteenth century and played an instrumental role in supplying arms and ammunition to the rebels during the Revolutionary War. The island is believed to have the densest concentration of archaeological sites of any area of comparable size in the New World, and is dotted with the remains of sugar plantations, cemeteries, old warehouses, fortifications, and marine structures. The waters surrounding the island are home to an estimated 200 shipwreck sites. Nowadays St. Eustatius is relatively quiet and undeveloped. It has a population of some 3,500 people. There are no large resorts, casinos, night clubs, or crowds of tourists. Instead, the island is a hidden gem with friendly people, little to no crime, beautiful national parks, and a laid-back atmosphere.

In 2017, hurricanes Irma and Maria stirred up the sea floor around St. Eustatius and caused large amounts of sand to move. This exposed a new shipwreck site, which we started to research in early 2018. So far, we’ve investigated several sections of the site and recovered a small sample of artifacts to learn more about the ship, life on board, and why it sank. The site consists of a ballast pile of hundreds of yellow bricks and is covered in artifacts such as fasteners, barrel hoops, ceramics, glass wine bottles, utensils, anchors, and even a cannon. One particularly interesting find is that of an ankle shackle, which could indicate the transportation of enslaved Africans on the ship. Artifacts recovered indicate the ship dates to the 1740s. It is likely the ship foundered during a hurricane in 1747, which historical records indicate sank 68 out of 74 ships at anchor in the Bay. During the 2019 campaign, we aim to find out more about the type of ship, what type of cargo it was carrying, and what life was like for the people on board. In addition, we will also start investigating another shipwreck site nearby.

The Field School

The field school will comprise a two-week program packed with adventure and exploration, for a total of 108 hours of fieldwork (including 10 dives), lab work, training, workshops, lectures, and tours. Participants will be actively involved in the entire archaeological process from start to finish, and have some fun exploring the island as well. The two-week program includes one and a half days off, but participants are welcome to stay a few days after the course has ended to explore the island on their own or go on some additional dives. The program includes the following components:

Underwater fieldwork

  • Surveying techniques
  • Setting up baselines
  • Drawing underwater sites
  • Underwater photography
  • Photogrammetry (3D recording)
  • Site reporting
  • Geophysical surveying techniques
  • Recording cannons and anchors
  • Artifact recovery

Presentations

  • History of St. Eustatius
  • Maritime archaeology
  • Colonial-period ships and shipbuilding
  • Cartography
  • Underwater archaeological field and lab work
  • Underwater photography
  • Photogrammetry

In the lab

  • Workshops on glass, ceramic, and metal artifacts
  • Processing of fieldwork data
  • Artifact conservation and analysis

Tours and excursions

  • Walking tour through the historic town center of Oranjestad
  • Visit to historic fortifications and sugar plantations on the island
  • Hike on our beautiful dormant volcano the Quill
  • Night dive on the Chien Tong wreck

Dissemination of results

  • Presentation of research results to the people of St. Eustatius

Venue

Accommodation will be at the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute, a spacious building in a quiet part of town. It features two bedrooms (bunk beds) and adjacent bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, office and laboratory facilities, a living area, Wifi, weekly maid, washing machine, and a large porch. Here we will also be conducting our presentations and workshops.

Food

We believe that good food is key to a successful and productive project. Food and drinks will be provided for the duration of the project. We will ensure the fridge is always stocked with a variety of foods for breakfast and lunch. For dinner we like to mix things up: we will visit several different restaurants throughout the course, and might organize a barbeque or get take-out once in a while. Restaurants on Statia serve a variety of foods, including delicious local seafood and local meat, Western cuisine such as burgers, pasta, and pizza, and some of the best Chinese food in the Caribbean. Every restaurant we go to also has vegetarian options.

Requirements

  • Participants are required to be certified scuba divers (PADI Open Water Diver or equivalent certification from another agency). Scuba diving courses can also be taken on the island prior to the start of the field school (not included in the price).
  • Participants are required to have dive insurance for the duration of the course. Our recommendation is DAN (Divers Alert Network) insurance.

Cost

The total course fee is USD 2,900. This includes:

  • 13 nights accommodation
  • Food and drinks based on three meals per day
  • Airport pick up and drop off
  • All transportation on island
  • All training, presentations, and workshops
  • All diving activities
  • Full dive equipment rental
  • All other activities, excursions, and park fees

How to apply

We have space for just 10 participants as we like to keep the group small. Our field schools 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 info@theshipwrecksurvey.com. 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 St. Eustatius is easy. There are several direct flights into St. Maarten (airport code SXM) from US and European cities. From St. Maarten, take a short 18-minute flight to St. Eustatius (airport code EUX) with Winair (www.fly-winair.sx).

Partners

The field school is carried out in cooperation with the St. Eustatius Center For Archaeological Research (SECAR). Their staff will be involved in the workshops and presentations, and the SECAR headquarters will be our laboratory where we will be conserving and analyzing artifacts. See their website www.secar.org for more information.
Scubaqua Dive Center is our local partner when it comes to all diving activities. See their website www.scubaqua.com for more information.