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Professor tells of discoveries in caves and gullies surrounding St. Nicholas Abbey


St. Nicholas Abbey

St. Nicholas Abbey, the historic St. Peter Plantation which has been transformed into a leading tourist attraction involving rum production, can boost its heritage credentials using surrounding caves and gullies.

Frederick H. Smith, an Associate Professor at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, United States, and a group of his students involved in a recent summer programme there found evidence that these places were used as places of refuge by slaves.

And they also discovered early evidence of the West African game Warri, which has now virtually vanished in Barbados.

Smith told Barbados TODAY he has “been coming to Barbados for more than 20 years doing archaeological research in different parts of the island, mostly Bridgetown, Holetown, and St. Nicholas Abbey, and did his dissertation on a site at Suttle Street in the City.

William and Mary is reporting that last month Smith and a group of undergraduates uncovered “artifacts and architectural evidence that provide clues about the types of activities that occurred in the plantation’s outbuildings” after “digging around the outbuildings of the St. Nicholas Abbey”.

“The presence of domestic tableware at the dig site suggests that maybe one of the buildings served as a dwelling for the plantation manager and his family. We believe that skilled work took place in the adjacent building, which perhaps served as a blacksmith shop or cooperage where barrels were made,” Smith said.

“The Barbados study abroad programme is intended to offer archaeological training within the context of a cross-cultural experience. William & Mary students are immersed in Barbadian society, working with local historians, students from the University of the West Indies, local volunteers, workers on the estate and many other Barbadians,” he said.

Specific findings included “cowry shells”, which they said were “probably used as necklaces or other forms of adornment, as well as gaming pieces made from broken bits of pottery, which were probably used for playing a West African game called warri”.

The researchers said the presence of these gaming pieces “is an example of the way enslaved peoples on Barbadian sugar estates maintained West African traditions in their new world setting”.

As for the caves and gullies, Smith said these “served as meeting places where enslaved people from surrounding plantations would gather” and might also have “served as secretive spaces where enslaved people could relax outside of the view of the planter class”.

Smith, who is said previously to have searched for and found the location of two early 18th century slave villages on the plantation, said the materials unearthed recently “have helped shed light on the lives and material conditions of enslaved workers”.

“I love doing archaeological excavations and working hands-on with the students doing original research and uncovering new finds about Barbados. It is investigative work and we are all detectives in our own way. My former students always comment to me later in life how their experiences in Barbados opened their eyes to new ways of thinking about the world,” he said.

These latest archaeological findings come on the heels of other ones found in Speightstown and areas of St. Peter and St. Lucy by researchers from England. (SC)

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