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

Project type: Expedition
Dates: July 2-16, 2022
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.

The 2022 summer expedition builds on our successful 2019 program, during which we surveyed some of the more remote parts of the waters around St. Eustatius. It will focus on discovering and documenting unknown shipwrecks and other submerged archaeological sites through extensive underwater surveys. We will then document these using a variety of techniques. Documentary research will complement the field work and provide context to our findings.

Diving during the expedition will be truly ‘off the beaten path’; we will go to places that no one has ever been before and see things that no diver has ever seen. That also means we will be diving further offshore and in deeper waters – the diving will be a bit more advanced than during our regular field school. We therefore require participants to have at minimum an Advanced Open Water certification, 25 dives of experience, and be certified to dive with Enriched Air (this is an easy 1-day course that can also be done on the island). You are more than welcome to sign up for the program if you do not yet possess the required dive experience and certifications, as long as you meet the requirements at the start of the program.

Participants will be completely immersed in Caribbean history and archaeology through various presentations, workshops, and site visits. Interested participants will have the opportunity to work on, and co-author, a publication on the research results.

The Expedition

The expedition 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 day off, but participants are welcome to stay a few more days (at no additional cost) 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 and ship logs
  • Underwater archaeological field and lab work
  • Underwater photography
  • Photogrammetry
  • Underwater cultural heritage management

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
  • Publication of research results

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 Advanced Open Water Diver or equivalent certification from another agency), are certified to dive with Enriched Air, have at minimum 25 dives experience and have dived within a year of the start of the program.The Enriched Air Diver course is an easy 1-day course that 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 3,200. This includes:

  • 14 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
  • Dive equipment rental (excluding mask and fins)
  • 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.