In 2017, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines acquired its first international airport. During the airport’s construction, an Indigenous village was found that dated back between the 16th and 18th century. To rescue the remains of this village, Leiden University worked together with the St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Trust and the International Airport Development Company Ltd to excavate the site at Argyle. The archaeological value of the site is significant as it is the first complete early colonial Island Carib settlement that was found in the Lesser Antilles. One of the settlement structures was even reconstructed in 2016. To raise awareness for the preservation of archaeological sites, representatives of St. Vincent’s Indigenous communities were invited to join the excavation of the Argyle site as well as the reconstruction in 2016.
Located on the south-eastern coast of St. Vincent, the site of Argyle was first excavated in the 1990s by Louis Allaire. The archaeological remains consisted of a mix of Indigenous Amerindian artefacts as well as European artefacts. The excavation in 2009 and 2010, which was carries out by the Caribbean Research Group from Leiden University, also found a mixed collection of Amerindian and European artefacts such as Cayo ceramics and European trade wares. These findings are very important, because they could help us better understand the transition from the pre-colonial to the colonial period in the archaeological record of the Caribbean.
Location of the site of Argyle in respect to the airport runway (photo: Hofman and Hoogland 2012, 65).
The excavation in 2009 and 2010 further increased the archaeological value of the site by uncovering the first complete early colonial so-called ‘Island Carib’ settlement in the Lesser Antilles. The ‘Island Carib’ or better known as the Kalinago were the Indigenous inhabitants of the Windward Islands during the early colonial times. The uncovering of this settlement speaks to the importance of the site’s preservation and documentation. Not only can we as archaeologists learn more about the history of the Kalinago, but it also serves as a way for the Kalinago to connect with their past. A lively connection of the Kalinago community with their past could even lead to a better preservation of this cultural heritage.
Besides the excavation of archaeological remains, the project also shed light on the ongoing problems concerning heritage management in St. Vincent. The site of Argyle is a good example of a persistent problem in Caribbean heritage management, the conflict between the tourism industry and heritage preservation. The two-sided nature of the international airport, for instance, can be recognized in the fact that it would serve as a boost for tourism while it also destroyed an archaeological site that could have attracted heritage tourism. Heritage management still has some way to go in St. Vincent and that is exactly why projects such as the excavation of the Island Carib settlement in Argyle are especially important, because it prioritizes the preservation of this Indigenous heritage.
In order to preserve the archaeological heritage, the Argyle International Airport Company Ltd, in collaboration with the National Trust, the Ministries of Culture and Agriculture, and Leiden University, carried out an experimental reconstruction of one the Indigenous houses that were found during the excavation. The reconstruction of this unique house not only ensured the preservation of this important archaeological heritage, it also presents the Island Carib history in a way that was more engaging for the local community as they were involved in the reconstruction. The reconstruction of one of the Indigenous houses involved residents from the local Garifuna and Kalinago communities. Their involvement was vital because they contributed valuable insights and expertise on the data that was found of the Island Carib settlement in Argyle. The house was constructed based on the findings of the archaeological excavation and ethnohistoric sources. Together with local experts and descendants of the Indigenous communities from St. Vincent, the research team decided on how best to reconstruct the Indigenous house.
Local community participated in the reconstruction of one of the houses (photo: Menno Hoogland).
The construction of the first house was such a success that, later on, several more houses were built under the leadership of Erasto Robertson from the National Park Service so that they could form a village.
The excavation carried out in 2009 and 2010 did not only result in the gaining of knowledge about early colonial St. Vincent, it also succeeded in finding a creative way to preserve and share this knowledge by inviting the local community to participate. Tourists arriving at Argyle International Airport soon should have the opportunity to visit the reconstructed Indigenous village to learn more about the Indigenous heritage of Saint Vincent.
Text by Nienke Hop, based on original published research (see further reading).
Allaire, L., 1994. Historic Carib site discovered! University of Manitoba St. Vincent Archaeological Project Newsletter 1.
Hofman, C.L. and M.L.P. Hoogland, 2012. Caribbean encounters: rescue excavations at the early colonial Island Carib site of Argyle, St. Vincent. Analecta Praehistorica Leidensia, 63-76.
Hofman, C.L. and M.L.P. Hoogland, 2016. Connecting Stakeholders: Collaborative preventive archaeology projects at sites affected by natural and/or human impacts. Caribbean Connections 5(1), 1-31.
Jordan, L.A. and L. Jolliffe, 2013. Heritage tourism in the Caribbean: current themes and challenges. Journal of Heritage Tourism 8(1), 1-8. DOI: 10.1080/1743873X.2013.765735
Lewis, P.E., 2011. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in P.E. Siegel, E. Righter, T. Ahlman, R.T. Callaghan, M.P. Pateman and D.T. Etayo (eds), Protecting Heritage in the Caribbean. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 96-105.
Sankatsing Nava, T. and C.L. Hofman, 2018. Engaging Caribbean island communities with indigenous heritage and archaeology research. Journal of Science Communication 17(4), 1-10. DOI: 10.22323/2.17040306
http://www.svg-airport.com/history/#timeline, accessed on 26 October 2020.