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Team unearths history on Smith’s Island

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Digging up the past: Two members of Dr Jarvis’s team working at the Cave Site on Smith’s Island

A team of archaeologists will return to Smith’s Island next week as they continue to explore one of the oldest homes that has been studied in Bermuda.

Dr Michael Jarvis, from the University of Rochester, and his crew of professors, graduates, undergraduates and volunteers will initially focus on the “Oven Site” (right) on the eastern part of the island, which is believed to date back to the early 1600s.

Last year the team made a series of breakthrough discoveries during the dig that helped them to date the old property, which has an oven cut into the rock.

This summer they will be going deeper in the hope of discovering animal bones and other artefacts that will provide clues about who lived there and when.

“At the end of last year we determined that the Oven Site evolved in two phases,” Dr Jarvis said. “We think it began as one small room some time between 1613 and 1619, then in around 1640 they extended it and rebuilt the house. There is then evidence of it being occupied by Native Americans between 1640 and 1710 before the site was abandoned. In the 19th century quarrying dumped a tonne of rubble on the site and preserved it.”

Dr Jarvis told The Royal Gazette: “We hope that by further excavating the site we will find out a lot more about who was there and what they were doing there as well as some valuable artefacts.

“This site is one of the first domestic sites to be found and studied in Bermuda. These were the very early settlers with perhaps a tobacco farm.

“We hope we can come back with the evidence to help prove that to scholars.”

The team will also be returning to several other dig sites that have been explored in the past few years around Smith’s Island, including Cotton Hole Bight, Smallpox Bay and the new Cave Site. They initially believed Cotton Hole Bight might have been where Bermuda’s first three settlers, Christopher Carter, Edward Waters and Edward Chard, set up camp on Smith’s Island in 1610. Although the archaeological evidence did not support the hypothesis, Mr Jarvis said the team had not given up hope of finding the elusive “first home in Bermuda” which was on Smith’s Island.

They also plan to return to Smallpox Bay, where old military buttons from the 19th century were found last year, and the new Cave Site.

Mr Jarvis said: “There is real mystery around the Cave Site.

“It does not figure on any of the old maps and was discovered quite by accident.

“The roof of the cave was very carefully chiselled out — someone took the trouble to do this, so we are looked to find out why and what it was used for.”

The team of archaeological enthusiasts will begin work on Smith’s Island next Tuesday and the project is expected to last five weeks.

Mr Jarvis is looking for volunteers to help with the work this summer. If you are interested contact him at Michael.jarvis@rochester.edu

• To find out more about the work that has taken place on Smith’s Island, go to Mr Jarvis’s blog at www.smithsislandarchaeology.blogspot.com

The Oven Site has an oven cut into the rock
Dr Jarvis (centre in white, sitting down) and his crew at the Oven Site
The team working on Smith’s Island