Ending a Great Season on Providence Island

The following blog post was written by our own Dr. Tracie Mayfield and summarizes the findings and experiences of her recent field school on Providence Island, Colombia.

The 2019 historical-archaeological field season was the first of its kind on Providence Island and we were able to gather valuable information from a variety of sources; including material and spatial data from excavations and survey (dating from the 1600s the present), ethnographic data from oral histories and interviews, and ethnoarchaeological data centered on how current transportation, food production, governance, built-environment, and technology are used today and how those same activities were carried out in the past (both deep and recent), allowing us to make connections between Providence Island’s history and its present; and between the Island and the international/global community over time, since the Colony’s establishment in 1629.

FIG 1_team pic.jpgPhoto: 2019 Field School Team

FIG 2_dinner with local collegues.jpgPhoto: Opening Night Dinner with Local Project Collaborators

Students played a critical role in all aspects of data collection: processing, and identification; photography; mapping and drawing; and making preliminary interpretations from the data we gathered. During weekday mornings until around lunchtime, we worked on recovering artifacts from excavation sites (5 in total over 4 weeks!) and conducting ethnographic interviews. In the afternoons, we worked on cleaning and processing artifacts in a lab we set up at Enilda Posada, where the team was staying during the field season.

FIG 3_excavations 1.jpgPhoto: Excavations at Posada Enilda

FIG 4_excavations 2.jpgPhoto: Excavations at Posada Enilda

FIG 5_excavations 3.jpgPhoto: Excavations in Old Town; Getting Some Help from the Neighbors

FIG 6_tranporting field gear.jpgPhoto: Transporting Gear into the Field for the Day’s Excavations

On the weekends, students had time off (1/2 days on Saturday and all day Sunday) to explore the Island and take part in activities like hiking, snorkeling, SCUBA, bike riding, canoeing, horseback riding, and going to public events like concerts and festivals.

FIG 7_Hiking.jpgPhoto: Students at the Highest Point on Old Providence Island

FIG 8_Crab Caye.jpgPhoto: Students Relaxing at Crab Caye

FIG 9_horseback riding.jpgPhoto: Student Horseback Riding

During the first week of the field school, the director presented on various subjects relating to the theoretical foundations, field and laboratory methods, and types of data used in historical archaeology in the evenings at Enilda Posada. And, because community voice is an important aspect of the Project’s overall mission, we invited Native Providencians to speak to us in the evenings, as well.  Native presentations included topics such as, the history of Providence Island; farming and food sustainability; and art and culture (talks from bush medicine specialists and local artists).

FIG 10_evening lecture.jpgPhoto: Evening Lecture

FIG 11_museum visit.jpgPhoto: Visit to the Virginia Archbold Museum on Old Providence Island

Students also participated in group field trips to different sites on Providence Island, such as: the Virginia Archbold museum, the annual Reizal festival (where Native goods are sold and historical presentations are given), and a boat tour of Old Providence and Santa Catalina islands.

FIG 12_boat tour.jpgPhoto: Observing the “Morgan’s Head” Geologic Feature During a Boat Tour of Old Providence and Santa Catalina Islands

One of the most rewarding aspects of the 2019 field season was working directly with middle and high school students on the Island. We spent two days at a local school, excavating on the property with students. Our field school students were tasked with teaching the young people how to excavate properly, but also explaining the aims and goals and types of data used in historical-archaeological research. The endeavor was so successful that we have been asked to return next year and expand the scope and scale of teaching, to include washing, processing, photographing, and identifying artifacts.

FIG 13_washing artifacts.jpgPhoto: Washing Artifacts

FIG 14_drawing gravestone.jpgPhoto: Student Drawing a Gravestone

The field school attendees also produced original research designs (topic of their choosing) to present to the other students and faculty towards the end of the field season. Instead of a final research paper, students were challenged to come up with a research topic or question and then present ‘how’ they were going to do the research. For example, what is their research question/problem orientation (e.g. what do you want they know?) …where would their data come from?  …what issues might come up during research?  …where would they present their research, once completed? The students came up with creative and exciting topics and few of those projects will continue over the next few years, including a second season on Providence Island for some participants in 2020 and 2021 in order to do further research.

FIG 15_RTI rig.jpgPhoto: Students Using RTI Photography on Recovered Archaeological Materials

Along with student research dissemination, the director and other faculty will be writing blogs and articles on a variety of platforms (NOTE: ‘like’ our Facebook page –The Providence Island Archaeological Project– to receive notifications) and presenting research collected during the 2019 field season at the Society for American Archaeology annual conference in 2020.

FIG 16_top of the world.jpgPhoto: Students Enjoying the View of the Sea and Islands from a High Bluff

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