JULY 2014: Ryan Espersen – Excavations on Saba

Ryan, on site in Saba.

Ryan, on site in Saba.

EUROTAST fellow Ryan Espersen had returned to Saba, a Caribbean island governed as a Public Entity within the Netherlands, between May and August to continue writing his PhD dissertation and create maps of excavated sites from the previous year using a differential GPS. During the last week in May, the Saba Archaeology Center, a non-profit organization which he founded together with Jay Haviser in 2012 (and made possible by EUROTAST), was asked by the Island Government to survey the proposed site of a new diesel electricity generator plant for possible archaeological remains. Jay had traveled to Saba from St. Maarten for one week to lead initial surveys with Ryan and new SABARC Manager Johan Schaeffer.

Archaeological trench revealing prehistoric occupation on Saba.

Archaeological trench revealing prehistoric occupation on Saba.

However, what was discovered was far more than initially expected. Three distinct occupations were discovered in a 700m2 area: an eighteenth century homestead with a house, cistern, commercial aloe fields, and pasture; a ceramic-age Amerindian occupation period some time between 400AD – 800AD, and a prolonged and intensive pre-ceramic Archaic age occupation approximately 3,500 years old, based upon a radiocarbon date from the 1990’s. Caribbean Archaic-age sites are not common, so this is an important site for pre-Columbian archaeology not only on Saba, but for the region as well.


A modified shell cup found during the excavations.

Most of the site will be completely destroyed as a result of the construction, so Ryan led excavation and mapping at the site every day throughout the month of June. The site report was delivered to the Saba Electric Company in early July. Leiden University is planning excavations at what remains of the site within a year due to the results of this initiative.


Cobble of red jasper also found during excavations.

Ryan’s participation in this SABARC project reveals the necessary inclusiveness of heritage management issues in the landscape; archaeological investigation must address all time periods present, especially when sites are endangered by modern construction.

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