Feb 2013: Archaeology of Slavery Symposium in St Maarten

Feb 2013: Archaeology of Slavery Symposium in St Maarten

8th – 9th February / St. Maarten, Dutch Caribbean

EUROTAST joined forces with the Sint Maarten Archaeological Center (SIMARC) in cooperation with Leiden University to host a 2-day symposium at the University of St. Martin in Philipsburg, entitled The Archaeology of Slavery: Reclaiming African identity from Africa to the Americas. The event was formally opened by the Honorable Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams with His Excellency Governor Eugene Holiday, and the Honorable Minister of Culture and Education Silveria Jacobs, also in attendance.

Representing the First Voice

The first day of the symposium was a community focussed public event, exploring case studies on the legacies of slavery in the former Atlantic world, and its impact on education, heritage tourism, commemoration and public archaeology in Ghana, the Netherlands, and the Dutch Caribbean. Morning presentations were given by Dr Jay Haviser (SIMARC), Professor Kodzo Gavua (University of Ghana), Ruud Stelten (SECAR), and Dr Artwell Cain (Institute of Cultural Heritage and Knowledge, Amsterdam).

A panel of local academics, activists, educationalists and cultural griots also provided a rich palette of voices in an afternoon of presentations and discussions on modern day St. Maarten/St. Martin. This panel included Dr Rhoda Arrindell, Lasana M. Sekou, Clara Reyes, Daniella Jeffry, Shujah Reip, Fabian Ade Badejo, and Jose Lake Jr.

Such a gathering and exchange of academic and community voices rarely takes place on St. Maarten, and thus the event provided a unique opportunity for an impassioned and frank dialogue speaking across critical themes of heritage preservation, cultural ownership, agency and independence . This was also EUROTAST’s first opportunity to observe and understand the true legacies of slavery in the Caribbean, as they continue to resonate in negative and positive ways: on the one hand through retained colonial hierarchies and attitudes that inhibit equity and capacity building for people of African descent; but on the other in a vibrant community heritage with uniquely appropriated African cultural and creative expressions.

The day ended with a keynote lecture by Professor Theresa Singleton from Syracuse University, who described her own research journey as an archaeologist whose leading field work in the Americas has sought to illustrate why archaeology matters in the study of slavery.

Archaeology methods and outcomes

The second day of the symposium was a closed training opportunity for fellows, where they were introduced to a variety of archaeological methods showcasing the diversity of archaeology as a discipline and its recent advances in combination with new analytical techniques including isotopes, proteomics and DNA. Presentations described a number of current and ongoing excavations in the Americas – in Cuba, Brazil, St. Helena – whilst also exploring how the history of slavery is being investigated in alternative contexts – such as in underwater investigations on surviving slave shipwrecks and in places where evidence appears to be absent, as in the case of stately homes owned by families linked to the sugar colonies in the UK.

Presenters on this day included:  Professor Paul Lane (York University),  Professor Theresa Singleton,  Dr Jonathan Finch (York University),  Dr Patrice Courtaud (University of Bordeaux),  Professor Antonio Salas (University of Santiago de Compostela),  Dr Rachel Horlings (Syracuse University),  Murilo Bastos (University of Rio de Janeiro), and  EUROTAST project leader Dr Hannes Schroeder (University of Copenhagen).

The programme concluded with a roundtable discussion for fellows on ethics in archaeology, led by Professor Kate Robson-Brown, from the University of Bristol.

The full training and symposium programme can be DOWNLOADED HERE.

A selection of symposium papers will be edited and compiled for a special issue of the Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage.

– Post by Temi Odumosu


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