Experiencing/Surviving Seventeenth-Century Day is a rite of passage in the Bermuda field school. Rumours and retellings have blown the day up to epic proportions for new students, especially when told by returnees. My original intent is/was to put us all into more direct contact with the realities and activities of the earliest Bermudian settlers who lived on Smiths Island and built and occupied Oven Site - a blending of experiential history and experimental archaeology - to give greater relevance to our daily excavations hereafter and provoke thoughts about how the artifacts we recover reflect things that we simulated on Seventeenth-Century Day. But I appreciate now that there is a further ethnographic component to it, a leveling of supervisors, veterans, and newbies and a bonding through shared stories, explorations, and common experiences.
This year's group were told horror stories about sleepless nights on concrete floors and toxic fish chowder, and three of the returnees chose artifact data entry in the lab over the "ordeal." Seventeenth-Century Day is not a required part of the field school and new students had the option of taking the day off, but not this bunch. Perhaps my issuing each of them with a hammock tipped the scale, but most everyone took on the challenge, including Katrina and especially Heather, who came back this year specifically to carpe diem.
Departing from past years' routine, we did not go to Tom Moore's Jungle and the cave-strewn landscape there resembling Bermuda in 1609. Instead, we spent the entire day at Settler House/Carter House in St. David's, rotating through stations learning crafts and traditional skills. At 10:15, we caught the Number 6 bus and left 21st-century St. George's behind. After a walk up the hill (the government discontinued the bus directly there), we set to taking stock of everything we needed to do - like gather firewood, start a fire, and make lunch using only period foods. Ethan and Cameron had a good long go with flint and steel - damp wood and high humidity didn't help - but eventually got a fire going.
John jerked a dozen cahows (actually chicken thighs), which took a really long time to cook on trivets over live coals. We were very fortunate to have Ronnie Chameau demonstrate how to make a traditional palmetto basket and Larry Mills, the builder of Settler House, share his expertise on timber framing, stone quarrying, and early modern house construction. The students learned a lot and very much enjoyed the insights they gained into how Oven Site was built and practicing the sorts of female crafts that went on inside.
After a thankfully salmonella-free lunch, we hiked to Cooper's Island Nature Reserve to commune with the spirit of our illustrious Smiths Island resident Christopher Carter, who chose this place among all others in Bermuda to make his home in 1622. We swam on his beaches, scrambled over his rocks, and stared seaward as he must have done countless times. We returned as the sun went down to boil the pea soup and salt cod we had set to steeping earlier, and roast the ham (earlier in the day, I had hunted down a Spanish Hog and smoked it for all to enjoy). While the food was cooking, Heather demonstrated how to spin wool using a traditional drop spindle and also how to knit - at both of which Jim excelled. We also sampled traditional drink - Adam's Ale and others a bit stronger, like sack and port. Our communal drinking of German wine from a German stoneware jug came to an abrupt end when one student discovered a cockroach drunkenly swimming in it the hard way...
Several hours and many stories later, we tested the sturdiness of Settler House by slinging hammocks athwart the interior. Others with less faith in its architectural integrity slept outside under the stars.
We had a surprisingly good night's sleep, especially Bailey who seems capable of sleeping through a cannon barrage, until an early morning dog-walker who couldn't believe we'd spent the night there loudly questioned us (and our sanity) around 6am. All in all, a really good night out. Despite their best efforts trying to convince Mimi, Alice, and Leigh that they had missed out, the students failed to get them to swap their movie night for another trip back in time.
In between Seventeenth-Century Day and the NMB tour, Oven Site yielded some pretty spectacular new finds - but more on that later...