Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Epic Time Travel

The Second Seventeenth-Century Day was a tremendous success - unlike the evening's Game of Thrones episode, everyone here survived with only minor injuries and even perhaps an hour or two of sleep. I have one of these overnight teaching days each year to give students experiential insights into the daily lives and limited technologies of the folks whose lives we're investigating at Oven Site, since this usually imparts a healthy respect for the considerable skills that living in earliest Bermuda required. The rules are simple: no foods or technologies that Bermudians circa 1610 to 1684 would not have had, which immediately means cutting the digital chord, or whatever the WiFi equivalent of this would be. Exceptions are made for first aid (although we had a few people wanting to try their hand at Galenic 17th-century medicine - blood-letting, mercury, purgatives and vomits) and sunscreen, but the latter was unnecessary on the blustery overcast day to which we awoke.
Waiting at the bus stop

Our first stop was to something approximating a primordial Bermudian landscape but we took a decidedly modern blue and pink carriage there. We got off by the Causeway and plunged into Walsingham Jungle, where thick trees hide hard rock outcrops and caves - lots of them. So we spelunked on land and in the water for the morning.

Class of 2014, deep below the earth

Midway through the exploration, we had the second annual Splash Off, this time with eight contestants rather than last year's two. Some very good splashes were had, too. We have video of the event, but Blogspot is lame and won't let me upload the videos of swimming in caves in the dark and the various splash-off contestants. (I wish I had gone with WordPress instead when I started this blog...).

 We ended the morning trip at Walsingham, the oldest firmly documented stone house in Bermuda. Built in 1652, the building's projecting porch, narrow originally casement windows and irregular hall and parlour layout hint at what Oven House may have looked like, albeit in timber-frame.

A soggy walk back up to the main road and a bus returned us to St. George's, where we had a 21st-century bathroom and lunch break.

We then set off for Settler House, Bermuda's only early 17th-century living history museum site. Built two years ago (partly with the 2012 field school students' labour) next to Carter House, this timber-framed, palmetto-thatched home is the closest thing we'll get to time travel back to our Oven House residents' domestic space. From this point on, we left the 21st century behind, taking only early modern tools and foods in with us.
 The first challenge was building a fire, and since the day was cloudy, last year's method of using a magnifying glass wouldn't work. Judd rose to the challenge, though, with tinder, flint, and steel. Meanwhile, Andrew and I chopped down a dead Casuarina tree to feed the fire through the night.
 The next challenge was preparing dinner, a task requiring a lot of advance thinking and preparation. I provided foods typical of 1620s Bermuda - wheat and cassava flour, corn meal, salt fish and pork, dried peas, barley, hardtack, vinegar, oatmeal, olive oil, carrots, potatoes,raisins, pumpkin, jerk paste - with a few slightly later luxuries thrown in, such as brown sugar, Madiera and Port wine.The whole group sprang into action, dicing up vegetables, soaking dried foods, cleaning dishes and cast-iron cauldrons, griddles, and pipkins and fetching water from the tank.


Luke assumed the role of Stew-master inside, while those not involved with cooking worked on the very traditional early task of palmetto platt-weaving.

Once our dinner was pre-prepared and needed time to soak, we took the mile walk from Settler House to Cooper's Island, where our Smiths Island hero, Christopher Carter, ended his days with a fine house, fort, and servants. He likely picked t he island for its five beautiful beaches and proximity to Castle Harbour, where most large ocean-going ships anchored during the Bermuda Company period. Gale-force gusts and roaring waves gave the island a wild and timeless visage and many students seemed lost in contemplation during the time we spent there.
Fishing for our supper
 We returned about sunset and got down to cooking by candle-light, making a vegetable pork stew and a fish and potatoes soup. Heather dusted off Minister Lewis Hughes's 1621 recipe for cassava cakes, which he penned for newly arrived English settlers, while Sam O made some very tasty cornmeal cakes in a frying pan over glowing coals.


The food was fantastic when it was ready and it was thrilling to drink out of Bellarmine jugs and glass chargers and eat off tin-glazed earthenware plates and bowls with knife and spoon (no forks in the 18th century) - the sorts of artifacts we've found or hope to find at Oven Site in the next few days. As was good and proper, much toasting and drinking followed on the heels of dinner. Songs were sung and stories told until sleep took us one by one. While last year I had the space to rig up a hammock-like cot, this time I slept on the earthen floor - which was every bit as hard as Context 005, I can assure you. I was by the fireplace so had a warm night but those toward the back of the house woke up quite cold. This year, I made sure the students did not sneak away on the first bus back to St. George's and they were in remarkably good spirits as they cleaned up the dishes (in a decidedly 21st-century way!)

Luke tries on 17th c. armor

A huge thanks to Rick and Ronnie, for letting us use Settler House (and making available modern bathroom facilities in Carter House) for this very special experimental archaeology/living history experience! 

On a final bittersweet note, Heather's time with us has now come to an end - she has returned to NYC and family life, but has earned one of our exclusive, not-for-sale season t-shirts, granting her a license to dig. Thanks for all the hard work and great conversations, Heather!
Heather and Xander with the first two season shirts awarded to volunteers

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