Archaeology Team Pioneering Technology to Survey Montserrat's Ruins

A team of archaeologists from the SLAM project are on island to research the ruins. Pictured here at Valentine Ghaut gun battery. (SLAM Photo)
A team of archaeologists from the SLAM project are on island to research the ruins. Pictured here at Valentine Ghaut gun battery. (SLAM Photo)

BRADES – A team of archaeologists will be adapting technology used in volcanic monitoring to help them find the island’s hidden ruins.

Krysta Ryzewski one of the co-directors of the Survey and Landscape Archaeology on Montserrat (SLAM) project is back on island with a team for the sixth year to study the island’s archaeology.

“During the first few years of our fieldwork we surveyed most of the accessible areas of the island on foot and located over 50 archaeological sites, many of which were previously undocumented. We used this information to create an inventory of sites for the Montserrat National Trust, to identify sites endangered by development or volcanic activities (like the site at Gun Hill was), and to select a couple of sites to focus on for our own further research,” Ryzewski explained.

“We are especially interested in the time periods immediately before and after the arrival of Europeans and Africans to Montserrat, as this was a period of major transformations in the island’s cultural and environmental history. It is also a period that is very poorly documented in archives and historical sources. In many regards, the archaeological evidence — the building remains, artifacts, and geological traces – is our main source of information about the lives of these people in the past.

“This year we are working with a small group of archaeology students and a geology professor from several different universities to study three sites from this very early period. We are also finishing up work that we began last year involving the use of a new technology called LiDAR to locate the remains of archaeological sites – mostly sugar estates – in the Centre Hills.

“As you know, the Centre Hills are a dense rainforest region and visibility is very poor – sometimes we can’t even see two-story ruins until we’re standing in front of them. The LiDAR imagery was shared with us by the MVO, who collected it for their own volcano monitoring purposes.

Valentine Ghaut gun battery. (SLAM Photo)
Valentine Ghaut gun battery. (SLAM Photo)

“LiDAR is a technique in which a laser beam bounced off of a detector in very tight intervals to gather 3D data about the landscape. The detector is flown from an airplane so that the LiDAR can measure large swaths of landscapes in one process of data collection. Using various computer programs, we have adapted the LiDAR imagery to suit our archaeological research. The main advantage is that we are able to peel back the rainforest overgrowth in the computer programs and see ruins on the ground that are otherwise difficult to see in person. We can also model these in 3D from the computer – before we’ve ever seen them in person – in order to tell how big they are, how well-preserved they are,” said the archaeologist.

Locust Valley windmill (SLAM Photo)
Locust Valley windmill (SLAM Photo)

The team is the first group of archaeologists in the entire Caribbean to use this technology in their research. “It’s a big deal for us and it’s also a really important source of information for thinking about how we might preserve, protect, and learn from Montserrat’s cultural heritage that remains in the Centre Hills and even in the exclusion zone. We’re really excited to be back on island.”

Since 2010, Krysta Ryzewski who is from Wayne State University in Detroit and John Cherry from Brown University in Rhode Island have been bringing a small team of archaeologists to Montserrat every summer0 to study the island’s archaeological past, from the earliest periods of settlement, about 4000 years ago until the more recent past in the late 1900s.

Follow the groups progress at Archaeology on Montserrat on Facebook.

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