Log In

Reset Password

Archaeological dig seeks to confirm site of first settlements

First Prev 1 2 3 Next Last
A team that worked on the Smith’s Island archaeological dig in St George’s Harbour last year (Photograph supplied)

Archaeologists hope to confirm the site of Bermuda’s first settlements on Smith’s Island in St George’s Harbour when a dig takes place this summer.

A team of professionals and volunteers will carry out the excavation and related lab work at Smallpox Bay from May 24 to June 28.

The project is part of continuing archaeological and historical research into Bermudian history on Smith's Island, led by Michael Jarvis, a historian and archaeologist at the University of Rochester, New York.

The university has carried out fieldwork since 2010.

On July 11, 1612, the island’s permanent settlement began with the arrival of an English ship, the Plough. There were about 60 settlers on board along with the first governor of Bermuda, Richard Moore — who began building a settlement on Smith’s Island before switching to St George’s.

Dr Jarvis, the director of the Smith’s Island Archaeology Project, told The Royal Gazette: “We are expanding and hoping to confirm that we have the first 1612 settlement when the Plough first arrived.

“We have a lot of evidence that this is where they built the first town.”

Last year, the archaeological team uncovered features including post holes — round features cut into the bedrock used in early building — as well as more than 1,000 pieces of daub, a material used in the construction of walls.

The work is documented on a blog dedicated to the Smith’s Island project.

Dr Jarvis said: “In the last three years, we found 160 post holes that may be part of as many as six different buildings on Smallpox Bay, Smith’s Island — the southern side facing St David’s.

“Last June, we found a large, deep pit that was full of more than 1,000 pieces of daub — the walls of these earlier timber-framed houses.

“These are the wall materials for those early 1610s buildings.

“We have also found 100s of pieces of early 17th century ceramics — tiny shards of earthenware. Within a couple of months of the first settlers coming here, these are objects they broke, dropped or that didn’t survive the trip from England intact.

“We have been studying them in the labs at Rochester University — we have mechanical engineers looking at quick lime and mortar that make up the daub.”

A sample of Bermudian daub with imprints of interior wattle clearly visible (Photograph supplied)

The same engineers visited Bermuda last month and met Larry Mills, an expert on early traditional Bermuda building methods.

Dr Jarvis added: “We saw a wide variety of sites so they could understand Bermudian building and how it has evolved.

“Their research involves reverse engineering and replicating the 1610 daub recipe.

“They will study what is recovered archaeologically and after analysing it, they will mix up sand, limestone and quick lime.

“We are rediscovering how the very first settlers created the material for the first house walls — some of the first houses ever built by settlers after the Sea Venture.

“We have parts of some of the building and are extending excavations to reveal the entire footprint of several of them.

“We are looking for the first town — you have to dig a town-sized site. It will be as large as early Jamestown, Virginia.”

Since 2013, multiple teams have dug up about 150 square metres of soil and Dr Jarvis said he hoped to dig up a further 100sq m this summer.

He called on local volunteers over the age of 16 who can devote at least a week of their time to the latest phase of the project, which will start in May.

There is an option to volunteer in the lab at The Globe Museum washing, analysing and processing artefacts from the dig.

Able-bodied volunteers are also needed for the dig itself.

There is a team of about 20 Bermudians, Americans and Britons already assembled including Xander Cook, a Bermudian studying for a PhD in archaeology at Cardiff University, who will be a site supervisor.

Dr Jarvis said: “It’s like a cultural exchange — we get to know each other in the present through discovering the past.”

A hand-drawn working map of the new features discovered on Smith’s Island last year (Photograph supplied)

Last year, Dr Jarvis received a US federal grant to fund the search for the 1612 town. It is expected that the full funding of $150,000 will cover the dig and follow-up research

He said: “All the funds should be exhausted by end of 2024 — if we have enough evidence and can show the outlines of the buildings, it will be internationally compelling and we can raise money to continue the rest of the work.”

The Bermuda National Trust has been the primary partner for the Smith’s Island project.

Charlotte Andrews, the BNT’s head of cultural heritage, said the trust is excited about the discoveries being made each season by Dr Jarvis and his teams.

She said: “Their findings at Smith’s Island relate to the development of Bermuda and the Atlantic World, with some directly relating to the story of our Unesco World Heritage Site: the Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications.

“While primarily about research into Bermuda’s past, archaeological digs like the Smith’s Island Archaeological Project are also fantastic chances to engage our community directly with the precious remains of the past.

“From the dig itself, to analysis of the archaeological record and artefacts, to cleaning and conserving finds, to curating and sharing those discoveries, there’s an array of ways for locals to dig into this important project and BNT archaeology.”

About 120,000 individual artefacts have been discovered as part of the project since it started.

Discoveries have included an oven site on the eastern part of the island and a quarantine hut with artefacts, which suggested that people quarantined on the island with yellow fever had family members with them.

SIAP also works with the St George's Foundation, Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo, and the Bermuda Government to “recover and better understand all Bermudians' pasts”.

Anyone who would like to volunteer for the dig should e-mail Dr Jarvis at michael.jarvis@rochester.edu

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published April 12, 2024 at 7:57 am (Updated April 12, 2024 at 2:15 pm)

Archaeological dig seeks to confirm site of first settlements

What you
Need to
1. For a smooth experience with our commenting system we recommend that you use Internet Explorer 10 or higher, Firefox or Chrome Browsers. Additionally please clear both your browser's cache and cookies - How do I clear my cache and cookies?
2. Please respect the use of this community forum and its users.
3. Any poster that insults, threatens or verbally abuses another member, uses defamatory language, or deliberately disrupts discussions will be banned.
4. Users who violate the Terms of Service or any commenting rules will be banned.
5. Please stay on topic. "Trolling" to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations will be deleted.
6. To understand further what is and isn't allowed and the actions we may take, please read our Terms of Service
7. To report breaches of the Terms of Service use the flag icon