Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Starting Up Field School 2.0

U R history graduates and the Mary Jemison

It’s been a busy few weeks getting reading for the 2013 Smiths Island field school. When not replacing the front of my house (long story), planning
a U of R graduating history major boat trip on the Erie Canal (a real coup for a land-locked maritime historian!), and officiating at U of R’s graduation, I’ve been gathering supplies for the dig, which commences next week. My UR colleague Cynthia Ebinger has lent me a precision GPS so we can firmly locate the many ruins and potential sites we found in 2010 but are not currently georeferenced on any Bermudian maps  - the venerable Lt. Savage’s otherwise fantastic 1901 survey missed some fairly obvious inland Smiths Island sites – like huge quarries – which suggests he didn’t actually come ashore!  I’ve also been scrambling to obtain artifact bags. The BNT-ARC emailed me that they’re all out, with too little time to order any stateside. Luckily, Wegmans (my fantastic local supermarket) came through by selling me bags from their candy department – at the price per pound of their candy! 

St. George's from the air: if you have a choice, pick a window seat on the
 right side of the plane when flying to Bermuda!
Laden with many heavy bags, I left home at the impossibly early time of 4:40am today for Bermuda. The next few days will be busy gathering field equipment, perhaps making a new sifter, reviewing last year’s artifacts to firm up TPQ dates for layers, working out a mooring spot for our boat, and otherwise getting things ready for the students’ arrival on Saturday.

And there will be many more than just the five of us. Thanks to the newspaper article in the Bermuda Sun (http://bermudasun.bm/Content/NEWS/Environment/Article/Was-this-the-first-Bermuda-home-/24/898/65774) and the Bermuda National Trust’s call for volunteers, we have at least fifteen other people interested in digging with us, ranging from retired couples to teenagers who have been volunteered by their mothers...

I really am looking forward to helping Bermudians learn about and unearth their own past. An important but often overlooked part of historical archaeology is engaging and involving the public to promote awareness of the fragility of our cultural heritage and to diversify the range of people included in histories beyond white property-owning men who make up the bulk of those documented in surviving records. With luck, we will find evidence of enslaved Native Americans, black Bermudian slaves who seasonally worked in the whale house, the three poor English sailors who became the First Bermudians, and  the unknown individuals who were forced to stay at the island’s quarantine station and those who nursed them in their illness. I can’t wait to get started!  

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