Simarc “shocked and disappointed” by dig haltPOSTED: 07/27/12 12:50 PM
SIMARC students sifting for artifacts at the Emilio Wilson Estate
St. Maarten – Director of the St. Maarten Archeological Center (Simarc) Dr. Jay Haviser says they were “shocked and disappointed” with the notice by the RainForest Adventures that they should halt their research project at the Emilio Wilson Estate. Simarc was requested to stop their work on Monday and had dismantled the project site and left the property on Tuesday. The survey crew was two thirds of the way through the work at the site and there are plans to do lab work in the coming weeks.
The survey was actually commissioned by RainForest Adventures, which is developing an attraction at the estate. Simarc was commissioned in the company’s effort to comply with the Malta Convention which requires an archaeological survey before a project is done at site that has historical value and significance. Archaeologists who mount these surveys look for heritage sites or monuments and artifacts. Any and all artifacts that can be damaged by construction are identified and removed.
“In professional ethics of archeology when you excavate artifacts I, as an archeologist, am responsible to report on what we did excavate. It won’t be a complete report right now, but only of part of the property. We have to write up that report because we did take up the work to excavate the artifacts. We were only paid half of the projects costs, so I was able to pay off the student workers but now I don’t have the funds to do the lab work and the write up at the end. I will have to come up with that out of SIMARC funds to be able to finish that report. That is a bit disappointing. I will wait to see how this develops,” Haviser said.
Later he’d add, “I am really not very aware of all the things that caused this. It is not my place to make statements concerning that because I’m not involved at that level of it. We were simply one phase of that implementation. I will make one clear statement; one of the problems we have on the island is that we seem to think by designating a structure as a monument that we are protecting it and that is not the case. We have to both designate it as a monument, but we have to restore it. We have to preserve it. If we designate a structure as a monument like in this case the Emilio Wilson estate Park and we don’t do anything with it and it just decays and falls apart, that’s not preserving heritage. That’s letting it disappear. So we need to be proactive about restoring it and preserving it and not just giving it a title and letting it fall apart.”
Haviser was unable to shed any light on the company’s plans going forward. When Simarc was commissioned he’d been told that the developers of the rainforest attraction intended to restore the monuments as they were and create a heritage atmosphere. Haviser hasn’t been told whether that is still the plan. The stop of work here also opened the door for Haviser to point out that the Emilio Wilson Estate (formally known as Industry and Golden Rock) and other plantations like Belvedere, Bishop Hill and Ebenezer don’t just need to be purchased. They also need to be protected.
“We found some very interesting artifacts relating to the African presence at the plantation. That is an important story line that needs to be told about all of these plantations. It is not just about the Europeans who commissioned to build them. It’s about the Africans who were the largest population there at the plantations and they actually build them. We need to properly identify the role of Africans in plantation life,” Haviser said.
Later he’d add, “My concern is that I don’t know the details about this new purchase, but I would be very concerned if it includes residential or commercial developments on big chunks of the property. That would take away the whole intention.”
Though he’s disappointed that the survey work has been halted Haviser is pleased that RainForest Adventures “took all of the proper procedures to get their permits cleared and they took the proper approach to implement (the – edi., -) Malta (Convention – edi., -)”. He is also thankful to the Simarc students that assisted in the survey.
“I’m very proud of my SIMARC students, I had a team of some of which got summer jobs with pay and some of which came even without pay. They were very hard working and dedicated to this project. I really appreciate that they were out there because that’s the youth of St. Maarten showing a serious interest in their own island. Imagine their discouragement when this happened. In my opinion, whether RFA continued or not they should have let us continued and properly finish the archeology survey, even for something that might come later,” the archaeologist said.