Senior Volunteer Involved With Caribbean Archeology

Archeology dig in Jamaica

We were excavating the older of two Taino Indian sites on the Paradise Park estate on the south coast of Jamaica when my trowel struck what appeared to be a small rock. However, when I looked more closely I saw that it probably had been worked. I asked Michael, working next to me, to take a look. She cleaned it up a bit and we then saw that it had been carved, showing legs, eyes and a belly button and the upper back had been drilled for a cord!

When Bill Keegan, archeologist and Principal Investigator on the Earthwatch BEFORE COLUMBUS expeditions, looked at it he saw that it had both male and female features and probably was a fertility amulet! After further cleaning and photos it appeared to be made from cloudy amber and probably came from Hispaniola. Although I’ve found a lot of artifacts working with Bill on digs or field surveys in the West Indies, this find was the most exciting!

My first “Before Columbus” expedition was on Grand Turk Island in the Turks & Caicos, and was my introduction to an archeology dig. I loved it! Bill and his assistant Betsy taught me to use a trowel, brush, dustpan and bucket while excavating 10cm levels and keeping the walls straight! I also learned to identify features and artifacts, measure the depth and location of the most important ones, and screen for the smaller items. Our volunteer highlight on this expedition was dressing up in our best Earthwatch clothes and attending a party at the Governor’s house where we mingled with the island elite in celebrating the opening of a new museum building!

Middle Caicos Island was the site of the next expedition – one of the most strenuous I’ve ever done! The main excavation was a 3.5 mile hike each way over a hot, rough trail to the other side of the island! Luckily, on the way back, Doreen had a little store with ice cold beer just before we got to our quarters in the little community of Bambarra! The site, MC-6, had a lot of shell, pottery, adornos (effigy faces), a ball court/observatory, and may have been the birthplace of Caonabo, the main chief that Columbus dealt with on Hispaniola.

The first of my two Jamaica expeditions was postponed a couple of weeks because of 9/11, but I was able to work it in by arriving a week early and working with the staff before the other volunteers arrived. We worked on both the earlier and later sites. The earlier one, about 500 to 900AD, had lots of huge turtle bone, huge conch, large fishbone and shellfish while the later site, about 1200 to 1400AD, had no turtle bone, and the conch, fishbone and shellfish were all small. This seemed to indicate that the earlier occupation had severely depleted the ocean’s food resources!

It was on this expedition that I was invited to join the “Keeganites” – volunteers that Bill asked to help him on other, sometimes non-Earthwatch, digs or field surveys. So I joined Bill, Bob, Jean, Michael, Terry, Sylvia, Ben & Patti on several of these, including three field surveys on St. Lucia working with a team of Dutch archeologists and their graduate students. We explored known sites, found new ones, dug test units and generally added to the archeological record. On one of these trips I was scheduled to make my pork chop, mashed potatoes and milk gravy dinner when I learned that two French ladies, archeologists from Martinique, were joining us – that made a total of 16! Bob and Ben helped me with the salad and vegetable and everyone said the meal was great!

An Earthwatch return to the Paradise Park estate in Jamaica was scheduled for 2003 but was canceled due to the death of the estate owner. Bill got approval to reschedule it in 2004 but too late for an Earthwatch listing, so he asked the Keeganites to join him. Several of us were able to and completed a successful expansion of the early archeology dig, collecting a great deal of interesting pottery, shell, bone and tools. And, that’s when I found the amulet!
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About Warren Stortroen

Warren Stortoen found a passion and a purpose early in his retirement. He has traveled the world volunteering numerous times every year supporting the Earthwatch Institute. While the number is still growing, he's been on over 75 expeditions. Wanting to inspire others, he graciously shares his stories with our readers.

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